#374: Naked pictures run amok on the internet, again.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I found a private message on my husbands fb. ( i wasnt snooping, our son (4yrs) had his phone and has posted on fb before, if i was snooping i would say so.) He had a conversation with an old friend from h.s. during the convo she wanted to send him photos but was scared he wouldnt like them. He said she didnt have to send them but she shouldn’t be scared. Meaning he would accept them. And she sent him nude photos. He swears he never opened them but complimented her anyway on their hotness, which she is not btw. I believe him thru his tears and knowing i would leave if he lied.  She asked if i would be attending the reunion next year, so she knows hes married.  She stated she wants to hook up then and get hot and heavy. There were other words also to describe her physical reaction to him.  He didnt agree but did lead her on by not saying no. We plan to compose a message together ending their interaction but i want to send her a message expressing my displeasure of her attempting to fuck my husband and ruin my marriage. Please help! What should i say to her that wont be illegally threatening, but will get my point across??


I know you’re really angry at this woman and dying to deliver just the right amount of soul-crushing fuck you, but you can’t make your husband not have screwed up here by magically transferring all of your anger to her. Whatever, he didn’t start the flirtation, but he was a bit of a dipshit here and he got busted. Sticking your claws in her won’t actually change that and will just leave you engaged with someone you don’t want in your life. Plus it will give her proof that she got under your skin.

My suggested message to her from your husband is some version of:

I’m sure you meant your photos and flirtations to be in good fun, but trust me that they were fun for no one once my wife and four-year-old son accidentally discovered them. I should have been more clear that I wasn’t interested and that they were crossing a pretty big line for me and my family, and for that I am sorry. I’m sure you’ll understand I don’t keep up these e-conversations going forward.”

Like, he should DEFINITELY let her know that the pictures didn’t reach only their intended audience, which might actually do her the favor of delivering the message that PICTURES OF YOUR JUNK = FRAUGHT WITH PERIL, DEFINITELY SLEEP ON IT BEFORE SENDING. He should definitely own his part in being a dipshit and encouraging her, and then he should de-friend & block her and start thinking of ways to make it up to you. And she should feel embarrassed as hell.

There’s no message you can give her about The Supposed Sanctity of Marriage that’s going to win you points here. Think of it this way: Your husband sounds like a pretty non-confrontational dude. If you buy his version of events, he was just trying to not embarrass this lady by appearing to go along with her nefarious plans. If you step in and go all apeshit on her, or even send her a “Nice vagina you have there….NOT!” message, it lets him abdicate his part in it because the womenfolk will work it out and he can still try to be the good guy who was just caught in the middle of “this drama.” Make it 100% his problem to handle and go back to the world where she doesn’t exist for you.

253 thoughts on “#374: Naked pictures run amok on the internet, again.

  1. LW, I’m sorry this is happening to you. It sucks, and you have all my sympathy. But I really, really think you need to reframe the problem. Because sometimes, other people are going to hit on your spouse. If they know he’s married, then what they’re doing is wrong and gross and isn’t at all okay. But it also isn’t the actual issue here. Don’t believe me? Try out a thought experiment: if this lady hadn’t known he was married, would you still be really upset and have a really big problem? I’m thinking the answer to that is yes, because the problem is your husband chatting with a woman who sends him naked pictures and asks him to have sex with her, and the fact that he plays along with it and doesn’t say no. Whether she did it on purpose or it was completely innocent on her end doesn’t make a difference.

    So yes, what she did was wrong and gross. But this woman’s moral compass is not in your control. You can’t *make* this woman realize she did something bad or *make* this woman feel ashamed of herself. If being told “seriously, I’m married, and my wife and kid saw what you sent” doesn’t have that effect, then nothing you say to her is going to. The goal should not be teaching her a lesson, it should be getting her to stop sending your husband sexy messages. Once that is accomplished, her part of the problem is solved.

    The solution to you feeling angry and upset? Is dealing with your husband’s side of this. Because this woman might have done something gross and wrong, but the only person in this situation who could have ruined your marriage was *him*. Maybe he didn’t look at the pictures (though seriously — he encouraged her to send them, and then didn’t look? I’m sorry, I am. not. buying. what your husband is selling) and maybe he didn’t say yes to having sex with her. But you know, and he knows, that he did something really, really wrong by letting someone send him naked pictures and descriptions of wanting to sex him, and by encouraging it both actively (with the pictures) and passively (with the offers of sex). And until you focus on fixing that issue, I doubt that any email you could send to the woman in question is really going to make you feel better.

    1. I love your re-framing of the question. It’s so true. And yet…I know women who have still stayed angry at the other woman when they found out that woman had no idea that there was a wife or girlfriend in the picture. But it makes far less sense that way.

      Also, I’m not buying that he never opened the pictures, either. Hell, I have no idea who this woman is, and I’d still probably open the pictures. This is such an obvious lie…and at this point, unless there’s something else he’s covering for (not necessarily an affair), why bother?

      1. On why he’d lie: I think there’s a natural inclination to try to minimize your bad behavior when you get caught doing something wrong. I remember when I found out a college boyfriend had cheated on me, and he persistently tried to sell me the least damaging version of events possible in light of what information he knew I had. His denials went from “I don’t even know her!” to “she’s just a friend who was visiting!” to “we kissed but that was all!” to “okay, we made out, and got naked, and were going to have sex, but then I stopped it! I’m so virtuous!” (Yeah, seriously.) He never, ever admitted they had sex; even after I broke up with him and months passed, he still made a point of trying to convince me that no sex had occurred. The minimization instinct, it is strong.

        So I get why he might want to lie, especially since the LW was obviously (and understandably!) already upset about what he’d been up to. But in some sense, I think it’s probably a bad idea for the LW to get caught up in whether he looked or not, because she’ll never ever know for sure and when you’re upset about a betrayal it can be way too easy and self-destructive to get obsessed about the details. I don’t really think it matters all that much whether he looked; what does matter a lot is whether he’s been trying to minimize his role in things or make excuses for his behavior. “I know I should have told her to stop, I was completely out of line when I kept engaging in these conversations with her” is a much, much better response from him than “She just kept sending me things and telling me things and I didn’t want to be mean/cause drama so I didn’t say anything but I definitely didn’t look at the pictures.”

        1. I always go by the motto “never attribute to malice what can be equally easily explained by stupidity”, so I’m wondering, did he realise the photos would be naked? If someone from ages ago messaged me and asked to send me photos that they might be embarrassed about, I’d assume they got a dodgy hair-cut.

          Or am I just being hopelessly naieve?

      2. I haven’t been on FB in ages, so. But can’t you tell if a message has been opened because it has a “hey, you, read me” blue dot next to it if it hasn’t?

        1. I had assumed she actually sent the *photos* by email. And it’s pretty easy to click on “mark as unread” in most any email program. But yeah, it’s not really clear…

    2. I don’t have the source for this, but I’ve read the reslut of research finding that the mechanics for this reasoning tends to be the wo/man who finds her/his partner cheating either

      a) wants to make it work anyway – so mentally she puts the blame on the other wo/man.
      b) is not invested in making the relationship work, acts on the realistic assumption that the only person in this scenario that owes him/her anything is the partner, not the other person.

      Hopefully, with if the involved persons have done some work on knowing their own expectation/motivations, it is possible to be both realistic AND maybe work on building a stronger, more honest relationship.

      So, LW, it is OK to be angry, upset, emotional when you’re faced with something like this. In going forward though, it helps if you can cut through the smoke and mirrors on both ends. Be honest with yourself, draw some healthy boundries. The help of a therapist is probabaly an excellent idea.

      1. Reslut? Typo that wouldn’t be a typo if Rush Limbaugh was writing this comment. Thank goodness he isn’t.

      2. When I found out my bf (now ex) had been sexting another girl, I asked him to de-friend her, but put the responsibility almost entirely on his shoulders. (I did point out to him that it was clear both of them had some real issues with boundaries and seemed to influence each other.) I then spent a week trying to get him to discuss if he would like to try an open relationship, if he’d be more satisfied if he could sleep around and I’d remain monogamous, etc. He turned it down to the point of getting angry at me bringing it up.

        And then dumped me a month later to go have sex with new girls. Understanding, I do not have it.

        1. I think some people get a thrill out of the deception as much as (or more than) the actual sex when they cheat. So offering him an honest, up-front open relationship probably wouldn’t have satisfied that. Or maybe he thought you’d eventually want to sleep around, as well (and why shouldn’t you? I so hate double standards.) Either way, it sounds like you are way better off without him!

  2. Love the answer, Captain. I realize that a lot of the reason the “other woman” gets blamed a huge chunk of the time is the aforementioned reasoning that getting angrier at the person you aren’t married to has the dual purpose of allowing a channel for that anger while at the same time not having to deal as baldly with “He/she cheated, what the hell do I do now?”

    That being said, in my experience it seems to be most common that, at least in hetero pairings, women tend to be far, far too ready to blame the other woman, and men are only too happy to oblige. “YES! You are 100% right, honey! That woman? She attacked me with her vagina! I am but a man and cannot resist the tractor-beam-like draw of naked ladybits! And she is a nasty skank who goes and steals innocent men who cannot say no! Let’s burn her at the stake, shall we?” Obviously this is not every man, nor every man who cheats, but it’s not uncommon and the misogyny of that entire construct makes my skin crawl. It buys into so many stereotypes: men always want sex, women are catty bitches, all women are a threat to other women, a straight man has zero control over his desires, bitchez b crazy…I could go on forever.

    LW, while this woman obviously did a stupid thing and a not-nice thing by sending naked pics to a man she knew was married, this wasn’t the person who betrayed you by – at best – being such a nonconfrontational wimp that he would rather risk your son seeing things he may not understand and might weird him out and your very hurt feelings than say, “I’m sorry, email friend, I’m married and monogamous, this would be inappropriate.” Him, you forgive, although he is bending his marriage vows to the point of strain, whereas she, who never promised you anything, must suffer your wrath? Isn’t that a bit misplaced? Be angry at him. He’s the one who made you promises. I don’t think it counts as infidelity, especially if he’s telling the truth about not wanting to hurt her feelings, but I think not being shitty to your spouse is pretty implicit in the marriage vows.

    Also, um…that dig about how hot she isn’t? Really, LW? Really?

    1. I don’t even understand the excuse of not wanting to hurt her feelings. You really don’t need to say “sure, friend, send me naked pictures… you’re so hot! Well done!” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. You can just say “I’m sure you look very nice naked, but I’m married and monogamous and you can’t send me naked pictures of yourself.” Ditto on the offers of sex. Unless he was planning to let her climb on up and have her way with him, at some point he was going to have to say no. The idea that he was letting her send him explicit descriptions of what she wanted to do to him as a way of not hurting her feelings is… hard for me to believe.

      1. It’s sort of like the men who used to swear up and down they ONLY read Playboy for the articles. People have varying levels of discomfort with pornography, but who the hell did those guys think they were fooling? A lie like that spares no one’s feelings because it’s so pathetically transparent you get the double-whammy of both the transgression AND the dishonesty.

        1. Right. Maybe Playboy could publish an alternative issue with only the articles and see how well it sells.

          1. I would totally track down Hugh Hefner myself in order to request this…and I have a phobic aversion to adult diapers.

          2. To be perfectly fair, they have had a number of really good writers and cartoonists working for them over the decades. I’m always a little surprised when another one of my favorites has them on their resume.

          3. Oh, definitely. I’ve had the same experience – wait, HE wrote for Playboy??? SHE did too?!?! And I actually have nothing against Playboy. I’m just not buying that anyone has ever ONLY read the articles. I don’t think I could do that, and naked women don’t do much for me.

          4. Playboy is also available in braille (and no, the pictures aren’t brailled). I’m pretty sure those readers are in it just for the articles.

            Everyone else, I dunno.

          5. The two times I read Playboy, it was for the articles.

            (Both in college: I needed the Jimmy Carter interview for a paper, and then I applied for an internship and needed to get an idea of the editorial style)

          6. There was (maybe still is) such an edition, in Braille. People really did read it. (Whether a sighted straight man, lesbian, or bisexual person would read Playboy just for the articles, I don’t know.)

        2. Total derail, but I once bought an issue of Vanity Fair that had some eye-candy actor featured in a photo spread. I told the cashier, “I swear, I’m just buying it for the pictures.” Which was true. 😉

        3. That line always makes me laugh because my parents used to keep Playboys in the bathroom and as a kid I would read anything I could get my hands on so I did, in fact, read Playboy for the articles.

        4. I can’t speak for men, but I’m a straight woman and I subscribed to Playboy for years, because the writing really is phenomenal (I’m also a journalist). I’m sure any guy who likes women would happily stop and ogle in between articles, but it’s not really that farfetched for a guy to get Playboy primarily for the articles. And honestly, with the wide availability of much more hardcore porn, and free stuff on the internet, if someone is paying for Playboy they probably really do want more than just naked pictures!

      2. This whole thing was surprisingly triggering for me – it made me think of my douchebag father and how this would be exactly how he’d act now if he were forty years younger. Which then led me straight to the “What the hell sort of man doesn’t say ‘What part of adultery don’t you understand? Fuck off and never contact me again.'” response. Not helpful to the LW, I know, but yeah, her anger isn’t going to the main target.

    2. … the tractor-beam-like draw of naked ladybits!

      Totally off-topic, but: I love that phrase! It would make a great premise for a SF B-movie. (Or a kinky sex fantasy.)

  3. There are a couple things that puzzle me here… the first being that the four-year-old managed to get Facebook open to exactly those messages. I mean, what are the odds?

    The second being why you believe your husband. He encouraged her to send photos, and told her how hot she was afterwards. But he never opened them? Combine that with him not shutting down someone who up-front says she wants to hook up with him… and I’m puzzled as to why, exactly, this is all her fault. I mean, as indiscretions go, this is pretty low down the list… but it sounds like he’s telling you what you want to hear so you don’t leave him.

    1. Gah! Leilah, I don’t mean to be argumentative really, but what did the LW way that shows her husband ENCOURAGED her to send photos? He didn’t discourage it, but there was also no indication that the photos would be inappropriate (meaning nude) either.

      At best he let her know there was no reason to be scared to send a photo. I personally read that as him effectively say he isn’t going to be judgmental. This was an old friend, not a stranger. The “Meaning he would accept them” is the LW’s interpretation of what he meant and granted she is more likely to know than any of us, but it also makes it clear he didn’t say anything encouraging they be sent.

      1. I definitely read it as him knowing in advance they were naked pics — because otherwise, how would he have known not to look at them?

        1. Yeah, I assumed the same thing–if he thought they were appropriate, clothed photos, why would he not open them?

          1. This is exactly what jumped out at me, and I was scanning down the page to see if someone else had picked up on it.

            Husband’s story just doesn’t add up. Either he didn’t open them because he knew they were naked pictures, or he thought they were innocent snaps and he looked at them. If it were the latter, he would be totally in the clear and have no need to lie about it. Therefore, I’m inclined to believe he must have known they would be naked pictures.

            Add that to the fact that he lied about that knowledge, and that he didn’t share what was happening with his wife, and I have to ask myself – do I really have even the slightest shred of faith in his protests of innocence?

            No. No I do not.

            Your husband is the problem, LW. Deal with him. Otherwise you will end up playing an exhausting game of whack-a-mole with all the subsequent pop-up ‘Facebook friends’.

        2. Well, best case scenario is that he assumed they would be “here’s me at the Statue of Liberty” photos, opened them up and whoa, she sent nudes. But then, uh, he went on to a) tell her she was hot and b) lie about having looked at them.

      2. “You don’t have to send them, but you shouldn’t be scared to” sounds like encouraging to me. I certainly can’t say how he actually meant that, but if I was that woman, that would read to me as “I’m certainly not going to insist, but I’d love to see them”.

        1. I guess that’s a difference in understanding between men and women. I don’t read it as encouraging or discouraging. I generally try and interpret from the perspective of the person speaking and go from there. /shrug

    2. I’m confused too about why this woman should feel embarrassed. Because she sent pictures to a married man and they reached someone else? I can see that. Because she sent sexual pictures to a married man? I don’t not buying it. Because she send sexual pictures to any man? That’s her choice. Because she’s sexual? That’s slut shaming.

      This woman opened up a conversation with a person. When it got sexual and LW’s husband didn’t shut it down she had no reason to think it was inappropriate or that there was something in the way. This “Other Woman” is in no social contract with LW and any anger that LW feels should be directed to her husband. If it gross to hit on your BFF’s husband, hell yes! But is it gross to hit on someone’s husband? Not always.

      Anyway, that’s my reaction to the advice. My initial reaction to LW is that there is misinformation. I don’t ever buy “the 4 year old did it”. Probably because my mom used to blame my brothers for stuff she’d dig for in my room (usually pictures). It just sounds so unlikely. And LW’s husband! He encouraged a woman to send pictures (“I don’t judge” sounds like encouragement to me) and then replied to the pictures but didn’t look at them?

      Maybe I’m less the endeared to Mrs & Mr LW because her body-snarking is also really gross. I get that she’s angry but again, that anger belongs with her husband.

  4. Dear LW: I’m going to have to say there is no way on earth your husband didn’t look at the photos. The fact he complimented her on “hotness” makes that pretty clear. Had he been extremely neutral (e.g. “you look just fine” or “you have nothing to be embarrassed about”), I think it would be more possible. I suspect he was embarrassed and is basically trying to tell you something to ease your feelings (optimistically) or limit his punishment (pessimistically).

    Going solely by what was posted here, there was no indication that your husband actively or passively (imho) wanted photos. Sure, he didn’t say “no, don’t send me pictures”, but is that really reasonable? There was no indication that she was going to send nudes! I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an old friend to send a current photo of themselves. I’m certainly curious how they years have treated some of my high school friends (male and female).

    I do agree that the issue at this point needs to be dealt with as a couple and fanning the flames (pun intended) of his old h.s. friend other than to make it clear to her he’s not available/interested is a waste of energy.

    I don’t know what your relationship is like, but like many women I know, men, too, enjoy compliments and attention. Having someone other than a spouse or significant other show interest can really make someone feel good about themselves. It shows that they are still desirable in general and not just to their significant other. Lest it seem otherwise, he handled the situation wrong and we could speculate for days on end why… but the simple fact is that he did and you two need to work through it. The best thing you can do is make it clear what you would liked for him to have done and go from there.

    Best of luck!

  5. LW, I stopped and had a very triggering moment when I read ” He swears he never opened them but complimented her anyway on their hotness, which she is not btw. I believe him thru his tears and knowing i would leave if he lied.”

    This is from my own experience so it may not be valid for you. Your husband did not volunteer the information about these inappropriate emails with this woman. When you confronted him with proof he admitted to the exchange but said he never looked at the photos, I find that hard to believe, very, very hard to believe. It reminds me too well of what happened when I found my own (now ex) husband’s email to another woman. He admitted to the least he could and I believed him, he told me; yes he emailed her inappropriately and he was sorry and he was crying and he hadn’t meant to hurt me and he should not have done it and, and she is just a friend (a lie), and he was afraid to tell me because, see! see how upset it made me! (a lie) Then he said he had never talked to her (a lie), he had never met her in person (a lie), the flowers on his credit card were to his mother (a lie), I could go on but that is the gist of it. It wasn’t until much later going on some forums that I found so many people with the same experience, they found out a cheating thing that was provable and their spouse admitted to the least of that thing but it was only the tip of the iceberg. This is something to think about. Also, just so you know, the woman my ex-husband was cheating with? She was not hot, no, she was stroking some part of his ego and manliness needs that he wanted and that made her hot to him, and she loved to say he was her soul mate (gag).

    I guess I said all of that to say this; go to marriage counseling, maybe try IMAGO. If you do, interview the therapist so you don’t get one like I got, the “we must save this marriage at all costs even if that means you are treated like trash” therapist. Get the objective, wants to help both people in the relationship therapist.

    1. I don’t think the husband is necessarily cheating; it is entirely possible he was being relatively passive in the whole thing, just not having the backbone/character to stop the ex-friend from flirting and sending him photos of herself, then feeling like the “polite” thing to do was to say she looked hot… more doofus than douche.

      Still, not very impressive. And the fact that “he knows she’d leave if he lied?” Well, maybe he figures she’d leave if he told the truth, which is that he had a feeling the pictures would be of his old pal naked, and he did not in fact eschew the little naughty thrill of looking at them even though he might not have gone out looking either for this woman or for photos of other naked ladies.

      The “other woman” is the non-issue. She gets a brush off — the letter could even say the husband admits he was being a bit of a schmuck, taking what was being offered in terms of nude photos, but he had no intention of following up and it was wrong of him to lead her on… The husband saying he never had any intention of doing more than flirting, and was kind of cruelly taking advantage of her lack of discretion, will be a better deterrent to future contact than “Oh, shit, my wife caught me and says you’re a wannabe homewrecker and I have to stop.”

      The real issue is how is the LW feeling about her husband at the moment? About their marriage? I would think not great. He seems to need a little extra ego boost. She seems to think it’s all about leaving or staying, not the quality of the relationship. A little counseling seems like a good idea to clear the air, recommit, clarify expectations, teach a little positive boundary-setting, improve inter-spousal communications etc.

    2. This was my experience, too, that the information, being discovered and not offered, wasn’t close to the whole story. Picking up my husband’s phone at the wrong time got a frantic (and yes, tearful) very abbreviated version of a story only relating to that particular text.

      A week later and a whole lot more information, the truth was barely connected to the first manifestation he blurted. I would hazard to say it’s not only possible, but LIKELY that minimization is going on.

      At best, your husband still crossed a line. Giving permission by omission is still giving permission. It doesn’t matter who was on the other side of that line. This is about him.

      And now, unfortunately, you. Jedi hugs all the way. It seems like a little breach of trust, but once you really examine it without trying to move the blame off the person who hurt you, having to tackle HOW that could even happen is less than awesome.

      Ask questions. It doesn’t make you disloyal. If he wigs at disclosure, that’s also saying something by omission.

    3. Just a note about marriage counseling…if you go as a couple, for actual “marriage counseling,” they will assume you want to stay married and will operate with that as the goal. If you go to a counselor individually then the counselor will be more objective regarding what’s best for the individual, but marriage counselors are there to help marriages.

  6. I read it as she checked his facebook via the phone to make sure their 4 yo hadn’t posted anything while he had the phone. But then, I’ve had to do the same thing (with far less traumatic results) when my spawn got their hands on one of our phones, so I might be reading that through the filter of my life.

  7. LW, you are forcing yourself on some level to believe your husband’s lies, because as you say, you feel that alternative is to leave him. THIS IS A BAD SCENE. Forcing yourself to believe (or at least not question too hard) because the truth is terrifying? Really really bad for your emotional health and your marriage.

    I mean, c’mon. Let’s assume this woman is the reincarnated Eternal Skank, who appears in every generation uglier and skankier than before. That doesn’t change the fact that your husband is running a line on you. He flirted with an old “friend”, he looked at and kept nude photos of her, he lied to you about not looking at them, and he didn’t cut her off when she asked for more. Then he played on your fears of divorce with the Big Cry. Did he do any of this at gunpoint? Guessing not.

    Your choices are not “let him gaslight me” vs “leave”, anyway; you can insist he get his ass with you to a good therapist who can help you work through this. It COULD be that he was just getting a huge ego-boost from the flirting and has learned a lesson. It could also be that he’s a cheating doucheloaf.

    But what he isn’t, is deserving of getting off the hook by tricking you into displacing all of your anger and hurt onto his flirt-buddy.

    1. But what he isn’t, is deserving of getting off the hook by tricking you into displacing all of your anger and hurt onto his flirt-buddy.

      My thoughts exactly.

      Husbands are people! They are responsible for their actions! They are not compass needles, tricked away from true north by big magnets!

      …assuming compass needles actually do that. Well, metaphors.

      1. Yep, they do, which means they’re useless inside a car. In fact, a little bar magnet will do it if you hold it close enough.

        Fun fact: the North Pole is actually a magentic south pole, since it’s the north pole of magnets that point to it.

        1. I just wanna say, one of my dreams that I vaguely remember from last night included something about a problem with magnets in cars solely because of this comment. Apparently it got a little confused in my subconscious. 😛

    2. thank you neverjaunty for saying what I was trying to say, he’s lying about the photos so what else is a lie and the woman flirting is not the issue, it could be anyone.

    3. “Your choices are not “let him gaslight me” vs “leave”, anyway; you can insist he get his ass with you to a good therapist who can help you work through this.”

      Yes, this. “If he did this and lied about it, then I have to leave him” isn’t your only option. If it is, it really, really puts pressure on you to believe he’s not lying, which isn’t great. Your options can include (but are in no way limited to): ask him to move out for a while, sleep in different rooms for a while, go to marital counseling, go to individual counseling, police his facebook account, insist that he never communicate with this woman again, insist that he send one message shutting her down, having repeated screaming fights with him, chew him out once and then never bring it up again, key his car, fill his underwear drawer with velociraptors, and many, many more. I don’t recommend some of these, obviously! But the point is that you don’t have to back yourself into a corner where his misbehavior determines your response. You can make a huge deal out of this, you can make not much of a deal at all about it. It’s up to you.

    4. Aaack, just hit the ‘post’ button on the above and then realized that ‘choosing to make a big deal out of it’ or ‘not making a big deal out of it’ is not a good way to put it. Because it’s not you *making* anything, he’s the one who’s been out of line here. Better words might be ‘you can choose your level of reaction and what you feel is appropriate to restore the relationship.’

    5. I totally agree with neverjaunty. But I’d also add that imho he IS gaslighting you, LW, and you need to face that fact if you want to go on with your life without major damage. Otherwise you’re complicit in lying to yourself, and that’s just never a good thing.

  8. LW, you seem to be working off the primary fact of ‘if my husband cheated, I would leave’. I wonder if that’s why you’re so set on believing that the other woman is the villain in this. How would the situation change if you set that aside and looked at what’s happened with as much distance as you can? Obviously this is all incredibly emotional and stressful, and I think maybe ‘he can’t have cheated because I don’t want to leave him’ is stopping you from actually experiencing those emotions. I don’t really get a sense of betrayal from you, and as I said, all your anger seems to be directed towards the woman your husband was flirting with. Maybe you need to take a step back and let yourself really feel what’s happened, without worrying about the long term consequences

    1. I completely agree. LW, it sounds like you are really hurting, and are really angry. But when you start writing stuff like [w]hat should i say to her that wont be illegally threatening…, you need to take some time away from the situation, and get a different perspective. Counseling sounds like a good place to start, and I hope things work out in whatever way is best for you and your family.

    2. Yeah, I noticed that, too: starting from the premise that admitting that this was cheating would trigger the insta-divorce. I think if we’re monogamous (or if we start out monogamous) we feel like this is just part of the package: cheating = dumping, but once cheating has happened, it may not be so black and white. Cheating via pictures on the internet may very well NOT be worth a divorce, especially if there’s a child involved. On the other hand, pretending that this wasn’t a serious breach of fidelity may make it much harder to move past it while remaining married.

  9. Ok, to +1 the painted lady above, can we all just put the kibosh on the ‘and she wasn’t even hot’ sort of denigration of other people? It is a case of spectacularly missing the point. Because the point is, see, that:

    It’s not about the other woman. (Or women, in other cases to which this applies. Or men.) It’s about your partner lying to you, cheating on you (in a small way, but still), and lying to you. Yes, again: the first one was the breaking-the-promises lie. The second one is the pictures lie, because, honey, if he didn’t open them, how did he know they were nudes? You don’t tell a random high school friend, “Those pictures of you (fishing with your nephew) are hot!” You don’t avoid opening pictures from high school friend unless you know they are nudes. And if you know ahead of time that they are nudes and don’t plan to open them, you do NOT encourage them to be sent, not even if you are the most passive king in the history of passivetown. Encouragement is not passive. Hubby opened the pictures. Cap’n is totally right that shutting her down is your husband’s problem, but whether you want stay in this marriage is yours. May I recommend: counseling! Couples counseling! And maybe just in case before discussing counseling, a quick trip to the bank and a lawyer to see where you stand and make sure that you know where all your (community) assets are!

    1. “Ok, to +1 the painted lady above, can we all just put the kibosh on the ‘and she wasn’t even hot’ sort of denigration of other people? It is a case of spectacularly missing the point.”


    2. Thanks! I’ve just never gotten the, “Yeah, that hosebeast was so nasty, she got beaten with the ugly stick!” line coming from a wronged party in any kind of infidelity. It cannot possibly be to make the wronged party feel better, because, um…how the hell does that even work? Congratulations, this person is less insufferable than you, or you are not as attractive as you think you are! So what it comes down to is, that’s an attempt to lash out at the other party, and it’s so horrifying that the worst thing a woman can think of to call another woman is still unattractive.

      1. ‘hosebeast’. *snerk*

        I don’t know why that’s funny or even what one would look like. Garden-Center Medusa? Firehouse hentai? Oh. Oh, crap. Aaaand now I’m gonna have ‘graphic, animated nightmares. (You’re welcome, everyone!)

      2. I get the reaction, but really, it’s one of those reactions that are best kept to yourself, or maybe between yourself and your best friend when you’re getting super venty and angry. The things you tell yourself to make yourself feel better. Because, really, if she *were* super hot, would this improve the situation in any way? No.

        That said, I do think the ‘and she was ugly too!’ reaction is fairly normal, and not necessarily sexist. It’s wanting to put down someone any way possible who is nameless and faceless. It’s easy to just slot this other person into ‘evil’ and work yourself up into Loathing.

        It’s just…entirely irrelevant to any logical or practical discussion about the matter.

        1. I think it’s a defense mechanism. Under the (all kinds of wrong) assumption that relationships are some sort of marketplace where a person’s value is based on their attractiveness, if you’re worried your partner will leave you for someone more attractive, you can reassure yourself that a particular person is not a threat by telling yourself that they are some kind of repulsive beast.

          But since we all know (at least consciously) that relationships don’t actually work like that, then you’re totally right, it’s just plain irrelevant. If my partner cheated on me with Kate Upton, I’d still be upset, because I expect trust and respect regardless of whether a supermodel is in the room.

        2. “That said, I do think the ‘and she was ugly too!’ reaction is fairly normal, and not necessarily sexist. It’s wanting to put down someone any way possible who is nameless and faceless. It’s easy to just slot this other person into ‘evil’ and work yourself up into Loathing.”

          But if you’re trying to put someone down by saying they’re ugly, you are on some level saying that their worth is tied to how attractive they are, which is an inherently sexist sentiment.

      3. The only time I’ve heard that and it made sense was in The Descendents – George Clooney and daughter confonting wife/mother’s lover (a smarmy-looking real estate agent) and daughter saying, “WHAT did she see in HIM.”

        Which, when Dad’s George Clooney … 😉

        But yes, in real life, it makes no sense, but then it’s about pain and anger, not sense. 😦

        1. Whereas that, to me, was a perfect example of why that line of thinking is so irrational — it was clear that George Clooney’s character had been a really absent husband and that their marriage had been broken for a long time, so the fact that he is beautiful probably didn’t do a whole lot to make his wife less unhappy.

          1. Oh, absolutely – it was just the physical juxtaposition that gave it what humour it had (just about the only humour in a film about a collection of tragedies, I thought).

          2. Not to mention that not everyone holds the same standard for “hot.” George Clooney doesn’t do much for me. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There’s no universal standard for “hot.”

    3. Yes to the “not hot” crap.

      A) WTF is that even doing in here? It has zero relevance.
      B) Just because you don’t find her attractive and just because she doesn’t look like, I dunno, Scarlett Johanssen or someone doesn’t mean that no one could ever find her hot, so maybe that’s not for you to judge.

      Mind you, I don’t get getting all upset about flirting on the internet, even with an ex. Yes, certainly, if your relationship includes that that’s not ok, then violating that is not cool… but I don’t get why people get so upset about it in the first place. Flirting is something many people do, and don’t necessarily mean anything by. *shrug* Just me.

      (Cheating in a monogamous relationship is, of course, Right Out. I just don’t understand classifying flirting as cheating.)

      1. The picture-sender had made it clear she wanted to have an affair. She wanted to commit adultery and husband didn’t stop her in her tracks. I’d say it’s the opposite of “unless you’ve made it clear about no flirting” it would read as the default being “unless you’ve mutually agreed that it’s okay, monogamy does not include invitations and nude pics.” That’d be pretty much baseline stuff for me. This is more than flirting, it’s the sort of thing that is corrosive.

      2. You know, I flirt with people, but in doing so, I never sent naked pics to anyone, let alone someone who was in a relationship. Can you drop the oh-so-superior “I don’t get why you people get all bent about this little thing” BS?

          1. And let’s not even mention announcing the intention of fucking him at the next opportunity. Flirting, by definition, does not get anywhere near this kind of territory, fatcarriesflavor. I think we can assume here that this schmuck was supposed to be having a monogamous relationship, in which case all of his behavior is totally inappropriate, and IS cheating, essentially, even if no recent touching has occurred (or oogling pictures, which I’d also agree happened, 100 to 1).

          2. He is not responsible for the other person’s behavior. I’m only talking about his behavior, which sounds to me like there was flirting up until the pictures. At the point of the pictures, yeah, he needed to back the fuck away, and if he was intentionally not doing so, that’s not at all ok. But it’s quite possible he just didn’t know how to deal with that.

        1. And the husband did not send naked pictures. If he had, I would entirely agree that he had not been flirting. But he’s not responsible for the actions of the other person.

          1. So sending naked pics *now* isn’t flirting, though before it was, and it was something we should all relax about? FFS.

            Sending a fully-clothed picture to him with “Hope to see you at the reunion” would have warranted a “You look great!” Sending naked pics did NOT warrant a “you look hot”. Not when he’s married. That’s not flirting. That’s engaging in really fucking skanky-ass, dishonest behavior. Either he’s looking at the pics and participating in this BS (likely, IMO) or he’s too goddamn spinelss to draw some boundaries and show some respect for his wife (“Whoa! Claire, I didn’t realize you were going to send *those* kinds of pictures–I’m married and would rather you never do that again.”)

          2. It’s possible that he had no idea they were going to be naked pictures, but from the conversation he had with the woman, it sounds highly unlikely. He may not have sent pictures himself, but he encouraged her to send pictures that were pretty clearly not innocent.

      3. People get so upset about it because it often violates boundaries in the relationship, because it can involve lying, and because it can (and does) lead to more, particularly with people who are not good at boundaries or honesty. For example, it could lead up to getting nude pictures and propositions to meet up behind your spouse’s back.

        1. YES. It’s not necessarily about cheating, but about trust and boundaries. Everyone’s boundaries are different, but to me there are few venues where harmless flirting stays totally harmless. I wouldn’t mind if my partner hypothetically flirted with a stranger on a train, never got her contact information and had no plans to ever contact her again, but if he were, say, secretly flirting via text with someone he knew, that’s a definite violation of honesty. If he sought out strangers online, even without intending to meet them, I would also see that as a red flag because he’s actively looking for other women. If he flirts with someone else right in front of me, that’s just plain rude. If he flirts at a party when I’m not around, that sends a message to our mutual friends that he’s available after all. In all of these hypothetical scenarios, the partnered person is pretending they’re not in a monogamous relationship and refusing to establish boundaries.

          I’ve seen a lot of situations where flirting was disrespectful enough to ruin a relationship. As just one example, my boyfriend’s ex/friend used to be in a relationship where she flirted with every man she met, in front of her then-boyfriend, knowing that it made him uncomfortable. He asked her over and over again to stop, and she refused. Rather than take that as a sign of incompatibility (because he didn’t trust her and she didn’t respect his feelings) they agreed that she would no longer have any male friends at all. They eventually broke up, she found a much healthier relationship, and got back in contact with her old friends. She and her new boyfriend hung out with me, my boyfriend, and a couple other people, and she and my boyfriend flirted for hours in front of us all and literally pretended we weren’t in the room. If anyone else spoke, they ignored us and kept talking. Neither one of them made eye contact or physical contact with their respective partners all night. When she started flirting with another male friend later that night, her boyfriend got so upset that he insisted they leave early. It turns out, she and new boyfriend had an argument earlier that same night about her flirting with men in front of him, and then she went and flirted all night. I later found out that my boyfriend flirts with this woman when I’m not around. We’re still working on restoring trust a year later.

          There was no outright cheating, but this woman’s behavior was disrespectful to the multiple partners who asked her to stop because she ignored their feelings. My boyfriend’s behavior was disrespectful because (a) the silent treatment is just rude and (b) he was behaving like he was single and I didn’t exist. I’m 100% sure that he will never, ever cheat on me but it hurt nonetheless because getting an ego boost from all her attention was more important to him than enforcing boundaries that he and I have agreed upon.

          This might just be my own insecurities and frustrations talking, but it seems like there’s so much intersection between anti-monogamy and misogyny. (No disrespect to polyamory. Being poly is also awesome and plenty of poly people are perfectly respectful of monogamy, and I’m not talking about them, just the evangelicals.) If you are monogamous, or ask for monogamy, then you’re just an uptight, controlling shrew. Don’t you know your man has needs??? Why don’t just date multiple people yourself? You clearly just need to learn to fuck like a man (whatever that means). If you get upset about cheating, or try to establish boundaries, then you’re just causing teh dramaz and we all know it’s the end of the world if women have emotions. You should have just been poly in the first place. If you dislike the other person involved, then you’re just being catty, because women never have valid reasons to not like a person.

          I really feel for the LW. In our culture people often go overboard and verbally tar-and-feather cheaters as though they are scum who will inhabit the same circle of hell as child molesters and people who kick puppies, instead of ordinary people who made a mistake, but at the same time there are a lot of judgments made about the cheatee, their actions and what they may or may not have done to cause the problem.

          1. Ugh, there was a woman like this in our group many years ago. She was intelligent, fascinating, really fun, bragged openly about her illicit relationship with a married man outside of the group. And she always dominated the attention of the married men during social events. Of course they loved it, getting flirted with *is* a huge ego-boost, even for the decent guys who were happily-married and would never actually cheat. It didn’t occur to them to take her aside and tell her to cool it; and of course it was the partners who ended up looking like the tight-lipped party-poopers. They were humiliated however they dealt with it. All while she was their “best best friend” when the husbands/boyfriends were elsewhere. Thank god I was single at the time, because I would have had no trouble dressing her down in front of everyone if she’d pulled it with anyone I was seeing. As it was I was one of the first to start mentioning to people how uncharming she was really turning out to be, which made me “uncool” for some time.

            This is a hard situation, because ultimately it was the male (in this case it was a mostly-hetero group) partners’ responsibility to uphold the boundaries they’d agreed to in their relationships. But this woman was someone who thrived on creating chaos in other peoples’ lives in the name of being the “free spirit”, and turning anyone who opposed her into the next group pariah. I think a lot of people are stumped when trying to figure out how to deal with this kind of person.

          2. Yes. Because, unfortunately, the guys in the group are collaborating in creating a problem. They don’t want it fixed.

          3. Of course not, she “found them fascinating” while their partners were just committed to regular ol’ them : P

          4. For the partner, there’s really no right course of action in that situation, is there? I really dislike my boyfriend’s ex, in part because of her actions and partly just because of her personality. There’s a lot more to the story, and she turned out to be very dishonest and manipulative. Beneath all the manic look-at-me-look-at-me desperation for attention, she doesn’t have much to say about anything. I hold my boyfriend equally responsible for what transpired between them, and we’ve addressed the issue at length together, but if I say out loud that I just don’t like her, then I’m being jealous, catty, judgmental, anti-feminist, putting the blame in the wrong place, or whatever. I’m trying really, really hard to avoid name-calling or stereotyping her as some sort of skanky man-eater, but the fact remains that if I were single I’d find her just as irritating. I totally acknowledge that some of it is my own biases and insecurities–I find extreme extroverts both annoying and exhausting, but at the same time I kind of envy being able to work a room like that–but sometimes, can’t we just not get along? Can we stop pretending to be Cool Significant Others who are cool with everything? Isn’t that what having boundaries is all about?

          5. There’s extreme extroverts (I find them draining too); and there’s dishonest, manipulative, narcissistic attention vampires.

          6. I apologize if this comes up again because SPAM FILTER ARGH, but:

            1) You do see that your boyfriend is gaslighting you, right? He and the Other Woman behaved horribly, and he is saying that you are not allowed to dislike her because she behaved badly. He uses shaming, insulting language to shut you down, including the oldest, dumbest threat in the world: if you don’t drop your boundaries and do what he says, you are uncool.

            2) Your boyfriend is also being a sexist doucheclock. He is, in essence, saying that if you do not like another female person, the only reason for that must be some kind of improper girly-feelings, like jealousy or “cattiness”. No, because you are female it can’t just be that another female-person rubs you the wrong way, or has a personality you dislike, or you know, was a total shit to you. Only men are able to have rational dislike for other persons.

            3) I’m guessing both of those things stem from a combination of boyfriend still not really admitting/getting that he was wrong, and still having the feelings for OW that led to his horrible behavior in the first place.

          7. Totally agree, Xenopphile! I get really, really sick of the “you’re uptight/if you were cool you’d just go with it” crap. And I’ve never been on the receiving end of a deceitful partner’s activity, thank goodness, though I’ve seen that sort of shite from my father.

          8. I’ve found through long, irritating experience that the best way to shut down the “uptight” BS is to say, okay then, so you’re totally hip and cool with me doing the exact same thing, right?

            It is amazing how fast a doucheloaf boyfriend will decide that “we should be open to other people” is not such a good idea when “other people” means you and another dude.

          9. “I wouldn’t mind if my partner hypothetically flirted with a stranger on a train, never got her contact information and had no plans to ever contact her again, but if he were, say, secretly flirting via text with someone he knew, that’s a definite violation of honesty.”

            I think this is a very valid point. My husband gets a thrill from the idea of me flirting harmlessly with a stranger like that, who I’ll never see again. But when I jokingly flirted with a close male friend of mine, it bothered him.

      4. It doesn’t matter if you classify flirting as cheating. It matters if the LW and her husband do. Every couple has to define where that line is for themselves. I’m in an open relationship, and I couldn’t care less if my husband exchanges naked pictures (or naked body parts) with other women. But I have no trouble understanding why other people would find either of those things inexcusable. And I’m sure I have boundaries in other areas that lots of people wouldn’t understand.

        There’s no universal rule about where the line that separates “totally innocent interaction” from “cheating” lies. It has to be hashed out in every individual relationship. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t discuss it and make a lot of assumptions. But as I told a friend who was recently dealing with infidelity, “If he hid the behavior from you, lied about it, and when caught said he didn’t tell you because he didn’t want you to get upset–then clearly he KNEW it was something you weren’t okay with!’

    4. “cheating on you (in a small way, but still)”

      Everyone has a different level at which they consider something ‘cheating’. This plays a lot into ’emotional’ infidelity and it also flags up that LW’s husband is prepared to hide things, lie and not-actively-discourage a woman from flirting with him and elevating the situation to receiving naked pictures.

      I would have a big problem with that too. I wouldn’t care what she looked like; I would be angry at her for starting things with my husband but angrier at him that he didn’t put a definite stop to things. Naked pictures are too far for me, I’d be furious.

      In this situation I would be concentrating on the duplicity and mendacity, and not on whether a really not-hot woman was sending my husband naked pics.

      Maybe he liked the attention and it all got out of hand. Maybe he was considering an affair. Maybe he was just being a gigantic douchecanoe and looking at someone else’s ladyparts. I don’t know. But it’s pretty clear they need to sort out what’s happened, establish some decent boundaries and decide what the other partner will and will not tolerate with regards to contact with ‘old friends’.

      1. if a woman sent my partner naked pictures, he would say to me at the first opportunity “OMG so-and-so sent me naked pictures, what the hell?”

        it’s just barely possible LW’s husband is so freaked out by her reaction, or by guilt, that he completely lost his sense of how to handle this. But it’s also totally possible he’s hiding something bad. No wonder LW’s upset.

    5. I always wonder if there is some other sort of jealousy that underlies the ‘she’s not even hot’ apart from the desire to put the other woman down. Like maybe the LW’s husband no longer takes the time to compliment her looks so it stings to see him remarking on someone else’s. Not that that excuses the LW but if that is the case it might be worth including that in whatever conversations she chooses to have with her husband.

  10. You can have agreements with your partner about what zie will or won’t do. You can’t actually have agreements with your partner about what OTHER PEOPLE will do. Suggest the LW request her spouse block the ex on email/IM/text/phone, and then go immediately to a whole lot of talking about expectations with respect to contact to/from other people. The ex is kind of irrelevant here; the key is that LW’s needs are not being met.

    This situation hits me in a place of weird, insofar as it is very far removed from my experience, though. My current partner has exes. Some of those previous relationships involve kids. I’m on at least text-to-see-if-the-kid-needs-school-clothes terms with the ones where that’s relevant, and other than that there’s been some FEELINGSMAIL and a bunch of FEELINGSTEXTS over the years. We read those together and compose a joint response, not because I’m providing input but because I’m providing tact and spellcheck. Most exes are exes for a reason. When one pops back up with FEELINGSTHINGS, “tell me more!” is not really a very good response. “Ah, I believe you should work that out with your therapist.” is often helpful.

    1. This.
      Similar situation concerning exes and kids here, so maybe that’s why. 🙂
      IMHO the situation as described by LW is a big red warning light that LW and her husband need to work out a whole bunch of relationship issues, from communications to needs being met, and her remark “knowing i would leave if he lied” sounds like they could use a therapist to help them with that.

  11. Hey LW. I hope you’re doing okay.

    I don’t feel so comfortable speculating about whether or not your husband’s being truthful with you. Obviously I don’t know him, and you’re married to him; until you tell me otherwise I’m totally willing to take it on faith that you know what he sounds like when he’s telling the truth.

    But still I agree with everyone above: there’s definitely something not-good going on here that needs to be addressed.

    Even in the best-case scenario, even if everything was exactly as you wrote and he didn’t look at the photos and he was only being polite because he never wants to hurt anyone’s feelings or cause them pain — he in fact did choose to risk hurting YOUR feelings and causing YOU pain in order to spare her. When confronted with the options of “do something my wife would find hurtful” or “do something my Facebook friend would find hurtful”, he chose the former. That’s really sad.

    For me this might not be a dealbreaker, but it definitely would warrant lots of uncomfortable conversation and assurances that it would never, ever happen again. I like to trust my partner to behave in the ways we’ve mutually agreed to all the time, not just when he doesn’t think it will bother anyone too much.

    I hope you find a way to work through this together.

  12. To come at this from a slightly different angle than what has been said above (which is awesome and I agree with CA and the comments)… I think this might be time for a little bit of a reality check for the LW regarding the importance/reality of monogamy.

    Now, I’m not the insufferable holier-than-thou poly person who looks down on the monogamous. Frankly, I fell into poly kind of by accident and it happens to be great for me, but I understand there are roughly a bajillion reasons not to go there. But I’m with Dan Savage on the fact that people who want to be monogamous should a) acknowledge how fucking difficult that is to do for a LIFETIME, for most people and b) not necessarily see anything even bordering on cheating as a relationship-ending offense. And I think a heavy dose of that way of looking at things would be pretty healthy for the letter writer and her husband. The LW should consider reading some of Dan’s columns involving cheating spouses, and should take a step back from this situation and think about whether her feelings about HAVING to leave her husband if he cheats are serving her well in her marriage.

    Also, the pictures were not ok, but I don’t think mild internet flirtation (which was how this started) should be banned by monogamous couples. It’s a complete fiction that if you’re REALLY in love, you don’t notice other men/women or desire them or want to feel desired. The promise of monogamy shouldn’t be “I will never think of another woman/man”… because to my knowledge that is literally impossible. And taking some compliments and enjoying them? Not terrible. He needs to grow a spine and be clear about his intentions, but flirtation makes many people feel sexy… which could even benefit his sex life with his wife, if properly managed.

    1. I’m approving this only to say NO. It is not time for that perspective.

      Poly isn’t something you spring on someone halfway through a monogamous relationship because you got caught “sexting” with an old high school person. “Look, honey, I’ve found the solution to our problems. You be less uptight, and I’ll keep flirting with people to make myself feel sexy. Maybe it will even improve our sex life!”

      Now, I’m not the insufferable holier-than-thou poly person…

      You know how you get to be that person? Coming into a discussion where someone is hurting about potential infidelity and suggesting poly as a solution.

      1. Absolutely yes to that, and can I just add: I don’t think violating the current boundaries of a relationship (and potentially lying about it) makes someone a really ideal candidate for moving into a poly situation in which respecting the boundaries and being honest are, if anything, even more important.

        1. Thank you! In those circumstances the natural response to a suggestion that maybe shifting to a poly relationship is the best solution to the current relationship issues is “with you, lying liar what lies? surely you jest”.

        2. Thank you for this! As a poly person myself, I would NEVER recommend that someone try opening up their relationship as a solution to infidelity. It has to start from a place of trust or it will fail. There’s a joke in poly communities that goes, “relationship broken–add more people” because so many people think they can solve deep relationship issues by starting up new ones. It just doesn’t work! And it contributes to the negative stereotype of poly people as just “cheaters who want to put a nice name on it.”

      2. Okay, whoa. I really was not not suggesting they BECOME POLY. All I meant to suggest was that she reconsider the “cheating equals automatic end of relationship” mindset she seems to have.

        Monogamy is HARD. Totally doable, but it takes work. Acknowledging that and having actual talks about those difficulties makes monogamy work BETTER. This is the kind of view I was advocating:

        Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest….In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.


        Folks on the verge of making those monogamous commitments,” Savage told me in one of our many e-mail exchanges, “need to look at the wreckage around them — all those failed monogamous relationships out there (Schwarzenegger, Clinton, Vitter, whoever’s on the cover of US magazine this week) — and have a conversation about what it’ll mean if one or the other partner should cheat. And agree, at the very least, to getting through it, to place a higher value on the relationship itself than on one component of it, sexual exclusivity.


        Given the rates of infidelity, people who get married should have to swear a blood oath that if it’s violated, as traumatic as that would be, the greater good is the relationship,” Savage told me. “The greater good is the home created for children. If there are children present, they’ll get past it. The cultural expectation should be if there’s infidelity, the marriage is more important than fidelity


        The emphasis here is on being honest about their needs. This DOESN’T absolve the husband, who was definitely breaching his wife’s trust and that was not okay. I just felt like there was general agreement here that “If I accept that he cheated, I have to leave” is maybe not the most helpful mindset? I was suggesting this as an alternative way to look at the question of cheating, and recognizing that it is not an end-all, unfixable betrayal.

        I’m really sorry about the way I came across–I really think poly would be a horrible idea for this couple in this situation. But I do think that it is important for ANYONE in serious committed relationships to think about what monogamy means for them, and to talk about their desires instead of pretending they don’t exist. Obviously the LW is in a bad place and those conversations might be best conducted with a counselor involved, at least to start. But if an email conversation and naked pictures caused this much turmoil, odds are something like this will happen again and her relationship will be at risk again. Having an HONEST conversation with her husband about WHY this happened would probably make the relationship stronger.

        1. You’ve obviously thought a lot about this, so I can suggest two venues that are a better fit for this comment. 1) Your own blog 2) The comments section of a question here that has something, anything to do with poly.

          What the husband did is not okay with the LW. That would be something she would get to negotiate even if they WERE both poly, or open to flirting with others. They will hopefully make their own kind of peace with it in time. I agree that there are many possible steps before “Leave forever,” and couple’s counseling is probably one of those.

          However, she’s not policing his fantasies, she’s upset about his actions and interactions. And the actions of someone who said “Sure, you’re married, but here’s a naked picture of me. Want to hook up sometime?” and basically treated her like she didn’t exist. That’s hurtful and crappy. Does she have to be pressured to be the fucking bigger person because monogamy is hard for Dan Savage and many others and get a little lecture on being realistic?

          Not in my comments section she doesn’t. Not today. Please take these arguments elsewhere.

          1. WTF. I’m not trying to beat up on the letter writer or tell her not to be mad at her husband. He fucked up. She doesn’t have to be the “bigger person”… she has every right to be pissed. He broke the fucking rules. But she is thinking of leaving him over this, and I think that is extreme. He fucked up, but this is fixable, at least potentially. There is a dominant narrative now that if you don’t leave a person who commits an act of infidelity, you’re like, a sucker. And I think that THAT is unfair, because sometimes people are abusive uncaring dicks generally, and sometimes generally decent people just do shitty things, and it is entirely possible to recover a relationship after infidelity, so long as you are able to not think of infidelity as the WORST thing that could ever happen to a marriage.

          2. You are projecting a whole load of stuff that isn’t in the LW’s letter at all. She has a very clear and strong boundary: monogamy. She is completely entitled to have that boundary, regardless of whether you or I or Dan Savage share that boundary. She is also entitled to see that boundary as a deal-breaker. It’s not “extreme” for somebody else to have a boundary different than yours.

          3. Mm, I’m with neverjaunty. That stuff just wasn’t there particularly in the letter or comments. What she says in the letter is that he knew she’d leave him if he lied. That’s not really an unusual sentiment even among the poly peeps I know, who in fact place a huge emphasis on honesty. As it is, it sounds like you trying to force your/Dan Savage’s general perspective on monogamous relationships onto this situation even if it doesn’t particularly resonate.

            I think I get what you were trying to say though. Was it maybe something like ‘LW, maybe it’s worth thinking about whether you would want to try to work on the relationship (perhaps with a counsellor) even if he did look at the photos and then fib to you about it. That’s a completely legitimate decision that a lot of people do make, all the time, and staying doesn’t make you a doormat or a dupe or mean you’re not taking the betrayal and your hurt from it seriously. And perhaps not making your staying absolutely contingent on him sticking to that line will allow the two of you to be more honest about what was going on and what you need from each other in the future’.

            Maybe that’s around what you were trying to get at? However, that’s not what you actually said. And when someone is feeling hurt by a betrayal is not the time to bring up ‘well, but speaking as a poly person, monogamy is really difficult for some people, so maybe you should read up about that and view his actions in that light’ or what have you.

            I hope that makes sense and that I wasn’t completely off the mark!

          4. [I PROMISE THIS WILL BE MY LAST COMMENT ON THIS POST AND THIS BLOG. I understand if you don’t even want to let it through, I just couldn’t resist one last try now that I’m not sleep deprived and not quite as emotional.]

            This is what I was trying to say. I rushed writing my first comment and was writing out of an emotional reaction to the sentiment of the letter writer that she somehow HAD to leave if he lied and actually did look at the photos (I interpreted this as her saying “well, he almost cheated, but if he had really actually looked, then obviously I’d have to leave.” I’m sorry that I misread this). I realize now that I shouldn’t have responded at all, because people already had the “this doesn’t necessarily have to end your relationship if you don’t want it to” part down, which is the most important and criticizing monogamy in any way following infidelity is a very sensitive subject since it tends to ring victim-blaming alarm bells, and I most certainly was not in any condition to navigate those waters, dashing off a quick, reactionary comment.

            The reason I thought to bring up the difficulties-of-monogamy thing was not to put down monogamy or to excuse the husband, but because I have actually known people who have tried to repair relationships after infidelity and struggled because the wronged partner was convinced that cheating could only happen due to malicious intent or lack of love, and that cheating was a sure sign that the relationship was dead. In these particular cases, even though the cheater was trying very hard to earn forgiveness and rebuild trust and the wronged partner WANTED to try to forgive, but the just the idea of cheating was too hard to get past. If people WANT to make infidelity a hard boundary that absolutely must be responded to by ending the relationship, that’s their business, but it’s heartbreaking to me to see people who want to repair things struggling because their deeply held belief that infidelity is a barrier that cannot or should not be overcome is conflicting with their deep love for their partner. This may not even be happening here, but that is the experience I was projecting from here.

            When people started reacting super negatively, I freaked out. I’ve commented here many times before (usually just as Keely, instead of logged into wordpress, because my blog is neglected and I’m ashamed of it… I forgot to log out last night.), and I felt like I was mostly welcome here. I’ve gotten so much out of this blog, and getting a big fat FAIL stamp from the Captain herself was frankly devastating. My first instinct was to just try again to explain myself better, because I really didn’t intend to hurt anyone. I should have known better, because I’ve been around here long enough to know that when you’re told to shut up by the Captain, you shut up, even if you didn’t mean any harm, because that fierce defense of the comment section is ultimately a huge part what makes this such an amazing place. I know that, intellectually, but I was not prepared for the experience of being one of the people who needs to shut up. I’m sorry, the way I reacted was stupid and immature. I felt misunderstood and attacked and I panicked. I got fired Monday and hadn’t slept since and I have been getting stupidly emotional about everything. I finally stopped because my girlfriend came over and found me crying over an internet comment thread and she closed the computer and calmed me down.

            I won’t pretend a small part of me isn’t hoping for some sympathy and forgiveness, because I loved this place and I’m really sad to leave. But I broke the rules and I was stupid and it is totally reasonable for me to reap what I’ve sown. Hell, I’m probably still being stupid by even writing this. I just can’t resist one last try before I go.

            Good-bye fellow commenters and Captain. I understand if you don’t believe me, but I really am sorry for this massive and insensitive derail.

          5. Oh, huh, there is your super-long “GOODBYE, GROVER’S CORNER” comment again. I already replied. STOP WORRYING. But also GO AWAY. From this thread. And only this thread. No grudges! Bygones! But, I beg you, please do not make me devote even one more minute to thinking about this derail or further explaining it or apologizing. Please. Go away. From. This. Thread. Now.

            NOT THE BLOG.

            This thread.

            And then we will be fine. I swear. Please.

          6. Keely, don’t go away forever! I recall liking some of your posts… you are not a cancer, of which all traces must be excised! Just make a note to self: “When Jennifer shuts you down, back off. The column is not about being right, it’s about being helpful, and one of Jennifer’s gifts is picking up when one of us is, however well-intentionedly, Not Helping.”

            I’m pretty sure I’ve been shut down at least once, and some comments I’ve posted never made it to the blog, perhaps because she thought they weren’t constructive, perhaps because by the time she got back to the spam filter where my post was languishing the point had been made by others or the LW had provided other information that showed I was off base, or perhaps because I was being heavy-handed with some point… I don’t know. I don’t need to know. I know she’s not being mean, or hating me… just keeping the site awesome. And I respect her judgment on that.

            But you can be awesome, too. The two things are not mutually exclusive.

          7. In addition to what the commenters above said, I don’t see any folks in the comments here saying, (Dan-Savage-wise), “DTMFA!” Instead, people are all, “Therapy! Communication! Being clear with yourself about who your emotional response should be directed towards!” I don’t think a dump-all-cheaters-instantly narrative being reinforced here.

          8. Dude. You have been informed TWICE that this evangelizing bullshit is not welcome and you. . . continue to evangelize. FFS.

          9. I agree with Alphakitty, don’t go away forever! (I’m replying here since I can’t respond to your last comment.) *Jedi hugs*

            I’m sorry about your getting fired–that really sucks. And I can see how, when you were in such an emotional state, it was easy to write an unclear comment that came across like it was saying things you didn’t actually mean. Once you explained what you did mean, it made a lot of sense! And I think your clarified points are good ones.

            I hope you can get some rest, get some time away from this thread or even the internet in general, and feel better. Then, come back to comment on other threads with a clearer head. We don’t hate you, I promise! (Well, I don’t–I can’t speak for anyone else, but I doubt they do either.)

          10. Captain, I love you and your boundary-setting and resistance to derailing–that is, pointing out that a comment that is fine in the abstract is not fine here in this context. Thank you!

        2. The reason it sounded like you were advocating a poly relationship is because you were assuming that the issue they really need to discuss is how monogamy is hard and maybe not realistic, and because you keep suggesting that those are the reasons WHY her husband did this even though nothing in the letter suggests that’s the case.

          There is seriously zero reason to think that the LW’s husband would not have acted exactly the same way if they had a non-monogamous relationship that involved a third committed partner, or if they had a non-monogamous relationship that required him to let her know that he was receiving naked pictures and sexy invitations from another woman. We don’t know if he liked the thrill of going behind her back or if he really was just being non-confrontational and trying not to hurt the other woman’s feelings or if he just finds it really hard to live up to the agreement he made with his wife about not having sex with other people. But when your response is to assume that the problem is that monogamy is super difficult and to propose as a solution that the LW take a reality check about the importance/reality of monogamy… then yeah, it sounds like you’re advocating for poly relationships.

          Or at least advocating, as you made clear in your follow up, that everyone should agree that cheating isn’t a dealbreaker. But sexual exclusivity, for a lot of people, IS an essential part of a relationship. And telling the LW she should reevaluate the importance she places on it BECAUSE her husband violated that boundary doesn’t really strike me as a good approach to the problem. If the situation was reversed — the LW was upset because they had agreed to a totally open marriage and then her husband suddenly and unilaterally decided that they were going to be monogamous — I don’t think you would be proposing that the LW take a reality check about whether being poly is important/realistic.

        3. I’m pretty sure WordPress ate my earlier comment, so here it is again–I apologize if this is a duplicate!

          I think “monogamy is hard” assumes a lot about people in relationships:

          1. Everyone is sexual and makes sex a priority in their life. No one is asexual but romantic, demisexual, in possession of a low sex drive, or just someone who prefers a night in with a good novel to going out and getting laid.

          2. Everyone desires sex with a variety of people. No one is only ever interested in sex with people they know well or care about; no one is only sexually attracted to their partner.

          3. Everyone considers the process of dating and having sex with new people to be a net positive. No one is squicked by being hit on or never wants to see another dick pic on OkCupid. No one has ever been raped by a date and has decided to avoid that whole process, No one has issues with showing new people their body; no one has social anxiety around dating.

          4. Everyone has impulse control issues with regards to sex. Everyone struggles with turning down an attractive person if they have work to do or a primary relationship to preserve.

          I’m sure I’ve missed some–this is what I came up with off the top of my head–but “monogamy is hard” says a lot more about Dan Savage, and Dan Savage’s privilege, than it does about every person in a relationship ever.

          1. THIS SO MUCH.

            You’ve basically just outlined a majority of the reasons I could never consider a poly relationship. Monogamy’s not hard *for me*; in fact, it’s easier.

            Doesn’t mean my way is the right way for everyone – but then again, the reverse is true as well, and it would be nice if polyvangelists recognized that. It’s really unfair to be told, “Well, you’re upset about this because you blindly buy into the beliefs of a system that oppresses you,” and not “You’re upset about this because it hurt you and you have a right to be.”

          2. “Well, you’re upset about this because you blindly buy into the beliefs of a system that oppresses you”

            This ^ was exactly what I was told by my first partner when he openly cheated on me, and being young and impressionable and he being brilliant and political I twisted myself into knots struggling to maintain my own deep values, which were “I am not weak, needy, or duped, I am monogamous.”

            Monogamy has never been a struggle for me; but it certainly has been for a number of my partners. It’s a pity the first one couldn’t have been honest about his needs, as well as respectful of mine.

          3. Yeah… that is a steaming heap of manipulative bullshit. It feels uncannily close to victim-blaming, doesn’t it? It’s right along the lines of “Come on, I thought you were a cool girl who would be cool with this because you’re cool!”

            Funny how even “Don’t shove your values down my throat” can become a value you shove down someone else’s throat…. o_O

            I guess, when you boil it down, what it means is that Being Poly doesn’t mean you have your shit any more figured out than anyone else. We’re all standing in a big snake pit, just trying to figure out which head goes with which tail… and which ones bite. :p

          4. It also assumes that non-monogamy is easier in terms of impulse control.

            I know someone who’s cheated in a nonmonogamous relationship. I accidentally broke the news to their partner, because their partner was distressed about a hookup and I pointed out that it was the second hookup, wasn’t it? Partner didn’t know that.

            I’ve had to exert self-control to not cheat in my nonmonogamous relationship. My (primary) partner wasn’t comfortable with me hooking up with people he works with, because he doesn’t want that kind of complicated sex graph. I had a crush on one of his coworkers, and didn’t sleep with said person. Vibrators are a great invention.

      3. I’m really really sorry, I really wasn’t trying to say what it seems like. And definitely the major issues here are a) husband fucked up b) not helpful to heap blame on The Other Woman c) counseling/honest talks are called for. ALL I MEANT TO ADD was that those honest talks should maybe include honesty about the difficulties of monogamy. And I left such a long poorly-argued comment that it came off totally different. And poly should have never been brought into the discussion, because that is MY life and had nothing to do with my thoughts on the LW’s situation.

        1. No, I don’t think those talks should include “honesty about the difficulty of monogamy”. LW is in emotional agony from her husband’s going behind her back and ongoing lying to her, knowing that monogamy was something that was a very clear boundary for her. It’s not her job to listen attentively while he sobs that it’s so harrrrrrd for him to keep his dick in his pants.

          1. That would indeed be a bad scenario, but I don’t think that has to be the way it goes, particularly if these things are considered in decent counselling. Monogamy is tough for many people, even if the alternative is much tougher and unacceptable. Being open about the difficulties, and accepting responsibility for doing the right thing anyway, could allow better discussion of how to deal when things go wrong, without automatically pressing the marriage destruct button.

            Which is relevant to this issue. If the advice given by most people here is, ‘think about the husband’s responsibility in all this’, then perhaps that should be tempered with, ‘but don’t automatically kick him out, because although he may have failed in several ways, this stuff can be difficult for many people to succeed at all the time.’ This might allow fuller exploration of what thought patterns and behaviours would enable him not to screw up in a future situation.

          2. “It’s not her job to listen attentively while he sobs that it’s so harrrrrrd for him to keep his dick in his pants.”

            This. It is his job to listen to her express her anger and distress at his unacceptable behaviour.

      4. “Poly isn’t something you spring on someone halfway through a monogamous relationship because you got caught “sexting” with an old high school person.”

        A friend of mine recently tried that in the form of “Yes, I’m in love with another woman, but we once discussed poly four years ago when we got married so you should be okay with it. Besides, I haven’t had sex with her.”

        His wife threw him out of the apartment and had their bank accounts split and her facebook status set to ‘single’ the next day. She does not mess around.

        1. Have you given in to the temptation to tell him “Hey, now you can go bang Ms. Other Woman all you want! Isn’t it great!” I admit I might not be so great about resisting that.

          1. Well, it’s more complicated than what I’ve relayed here. He’s currently trying to get his head out of his ass and reconcile with his wife, which his friends are much in favor of. She’s a gem of a woman. But yeah, there was a definite thread of ‘hope you thought that was worth it!’ from all his friends.

    2. Okay I’m sorry if I’m instigating this, but I really really wanted to point out how that sounded:

      “I’m POLY…but MONO people need to acknowledge how difficult being MONO is. And as a POLY person, I think MONO people should be okay with things that us POLY people are okay with. And it is complete fiction that MONO people aren’t like POLY people, and the promise of MONO people to my knowledge as a POLY person is literally impossible”

      If you’re poly, which hey great that works for you, then how can you understand mono relationships? I’m sure they seem really hard and possibly impossible for you- which isn’t that WHY you’re poly? Because it’s not YOUR ideal situation? You make it sound like mono relationships don’t actually exist and everyone just needs to admit that they are really poly. Turn what you said around and consider how you’d take it if someone said that poly relationships are literally impossible and complete fiction…

      Also, there is a big different between someone innocently complimenting a married man and what the LW has described.

      1. Yeah, that.

        I always find these discussions interesting, because I am currently monogamous because ethical non-monogamy was just way, way, way too much work for me. I fully believe that, e.g., Dan Savage finds monogamy to be very difficult, but I am the opposite–for me, monogamy is so much easier, there’s no contest, and in the end I don’t enjoy polyamory enough for it to be worth how hard it is.

        I definitely think people should do whichever makes more sense, and god knows I may be the outlier, but it’s not entirely true that monogamy is the hard road for everyone.

        1. Let’s just say that if a friend told me they were interested in polyamory and wanted to be pointed at some resources, the top of my list for them would not include Dan “Unexamined Male Privilege” Savage.

          1. “…..and Butt-Headed Transphobia”……yeah, it was admittedly getting a little long there.

          2. Don’t forget Dan “well maybe it wasn’t really rape-rape, maybe you made some bad decisions” Savage. Ugh that guy.

          3. It bears saying: gay men in cities like Seattle have some pretty sweet low-investment options for zipless hookups. This does not mean that gay men are automatically poly, or that gay men can’t be monogamous or don’t want to be. It’s just that there’s no het female equivalent of Blow Buddies.

            Straight guys also have more options than straight women: it’s not so risky for them to hook up with total strangers who might be jerks, and shitfaced total stranger (and potential jerk) sex can be a lot more gratifying from the dudely end. There’s no het female equivalent of not living under patriarchy.

            And I think these differences affect negotiations around polygamy in a stable LTR. Using craigslist to hook up with someone you probably won’t ever see again is very different from looking for a third or another couple to fool around with. It’s a different dynamic to introduce to the relationship, and it usually means that the primary partner has to be more involved in the whole production.

            And when one partner can go out and hook up easily whereas the other might have some difficulty making that work in a way that isn’t thankless and irritating…well, it’s yet another complication that can lead to hurt feelings and anger. Not to mention jealousy.

            And it’s yet another way that Dan Savage is kind of dense about people not himself.

            But anyway! This is all a derail, but the upshot is that POLYGAMY IS NOT MAGIC. For a lot of people, it just feels like cheating you’re not allowed to think of as cheating. And it’s really not a solution if it makes you upset and uncomfortable, and I think it’s safe to say that the LW DEFINITELY doesn’t want any other women fooling around with her man.

        2. “I definitely think people should do whichever makes more sense, and god knows I may be the outlier, but it’s not entirely true that monogamy is the hard road for everyone.”

          Ditto. There are myths about what “true love” has to look like for everyone, but it’s the “for everyone” that’s the problem. Sometimes monogamy is easy. Sometimes that’s to do with who they are, sometimes it’s to do with who they’re with and maybe where they are in life. Similarly with polyamory, being single and playing the field or indeed being abstinent. All these things can work like a dream in some circumstances, and can be an abject hell in others.

          The only rules are about how we all deserve to be treated.

      2. Clearly, I am on my own here. I should have never mentioned poly. This is a post about EVIL CHEATERS and how they must be stopped. Even though I have qualified ever single thing I’ve said with “The husband in this case definitely, 100% fucked up,” apparently every thing I’ve said here has been interpreted as “well she shouldn’t actually be mad at him, because POLY.” She should be mad. My question was whether she should be relationship-ending mad. And if he’s going to continue being a spineless liar, then maybe she should be. But if it went more like “Husband really fucked this one up big time, but he really loves me and is making every effort to make it up to me, and our relationship can be solid again moving forward because we are deciding our love and our commitment is worth weathering this fuck up”… then there might be something here to save, even if he did cheat. Is that really so fucking evil?

        Regarding your points about me personally, if you give a fuck:

        1. I am currently in a poly relationship, but I have been successfully monogamous before. I’m not incapable of being with one person. I am with two people because a girl I started seeing wanted poly, and therefore was happy to let me keep up a friends-with-benefits situation I had going already. That FWB situation grew into more of a proper relationship, so I now have a boyfriend and a girlfriend. I am not a serial cheater incapable of monogamy, I’m a person who has chosen this relationship style because it works for my life right now. I also had an abusive ex who was extremely possessive of me and was obsessed with the idea that I was cheating on him because he had a small dick. I am therefore highly sensitive to possessive behavior, which makes poly people more likely partners for me… but not because I need to cheat, just that I need to feel my partner isn’t constantly obsessed with the idea that I MIGHT be cheating.

        2. There is no evidence that humans are naturally monogamous. It is a completely reasonable relationship style and one that we are culturally conditioned to prefer, but it does go against the desires for things like novelty. Being monogamous means accepting that fact and trading the chance for novelty and adventure for the benefits of a stable single partnership. Likewise, jealousy is a natural emotion, although it is sometimes amplified by glorification of it in some cultures. So being poly means accepting that jealousy will happen, but deciding it is worth it in exchange for the benefits of novelty, of multiple meaningful partnerships, or whatever. They are both CHOICES. Yes, some people struggle more with the need for new shiny sex partners (or flirtation partners), and those people might be better suited to poly. Some people struggle so much with jealousy that poly just isn’t a realistic option for them. But both relationship styles arise out of natural human traits that we all have. Life-long monogamy is rare in nature and statistically not terribly common in people, but then poly has significant problems as well. All I’m arguing is that people should be aware of those realities so that they can then support each other in whatever choice they make.


        1. Keely,

          Mixed in here are some points worth discussing. ELSEWHERE. Elsewhere. Elsewhere. You did such

            a bad job with your first comment that all the clarifications are coming across like digging in a deepening hole.

            Your earlier apology is accepted. Your point is taken. Perhaps the letter writer will consider what you said.

            But please don’t expand on these points, even the missing point 3. Walk away from this thread. Come back another time, another thread, another day.

        2. Keely, I’m so sorry, I accidentally deleted the most recent comment you made and can’t recover it (meant to approve, hit the wrong button). No need to re-post, it’s clear that you get why people reacted so badly.

          You don’t have anything to apologize for. The great thing about using words is if I say “Hey, please stop this line of discussion” it doesn’t secretly mean “YOU SUCK PERMAMENTLY, LEAVE FOREVER, WE HATE YOU” it means, “Stop this line of discussion, please.”

          What has sometimes led to bannings and other badness in the past is people hearing “Please stop this now” as “YOU ARE HORRIBLE” and getting pissed off and repeatedly emailing me because the person sees it as some kind of special humiliation they’ve been singled out for or asking for personal special explanations, instead of taking it as “Please stop doing that thing, thanks,” and stopping the thing.

          There are no points for class participation, so if a point has been made repeatedly and people are just arguing the same thing back and forth, I quickly lose patience and feel zero obligation to let it play out to a natural end. People don’t have the right to express themselves endlessly here.

          Sometimes I can’t win – if I just delete the comment out of hand (which I definitely do sometimes for first-time commenters and *all* the time for MRAs), then I’m not being transparent and am being arbitrary and censoring stuff. If I say something in the thread along the lines of “Ok, but stop now” then I’m freaking people out publicly and embarrassing them. Mostly I want to do whatever keeps this a constructive space and generates the fewest angry emails.

          We had zero angry emails this time, so no worries. Please come back some other time and be a part of the community. No grudges, but also, no need to explain or elaborate further.

          1. I feel like this should be the go-to example for illustrations of ‘Don’t make it about you.’ Keely! You seem to some Feelings about monogamy and people judging your poly-ness and about people judging you at all? Write your own letter, maybe! Captain, you have handled this with such niceness, I extra-militarily-smartly salute you.

          2. Thanks. My apologies on the double post, my internet cut out and I thought the comment hadn’t sent.

    3. I know you clarified this below, but really? This pretty much a textbook example of being the holier-than-thou poly person.

      If your roommate stole some of your favorite things and pawned them for beer money, how would you react to someone telling you ‘hey, maybe you wouldn’t be so upset about it if you considered that all property is theft, and probably your roommate is just finding it damn hard to respect other people’s things, so why don’t you go to this neo-Marxist site and get some stuff to share with your roommate about communitarianism? I mean, an honest discussion about your roommate stealing your shit ought to at least touch on how hard it is not to take other people’s things.”

      Yeah. Me too.

      1. Me, too. And it’s worse than that–I mean, even if it were true that nonmonogamy can work for some people…this isn’t just Not The Time. This is clearly Not The Couple. This woman obviously would never in a million years be okay with it. She obviously is not interested in exploring an open marriage to her husband. This naked pictures thing is really, really, really upsetting her and hurting her feelings, to the extent that she is thinking about not being married anymore.

        And some of that is because her husband was a dishonest jerk, but a lot of it is because she is extremely jealous of other women who try to have sex with her husband. It’s not something to try to get past; it’s her emotional makeup, and it’s perfectly fine to just let it be. She does not want to share. And what she needs is a husband mature enough to respect that, not selfish enough to disregard it.

        It’s like responding to, “My husband doesn’t want kids and that makes me miserable, because I love children and desperately want them, and his refusal to have children with me has sent me into a deep depression,” with, “But have you considered remaining childless forever? It’s really not so bad.” Like, yes, and the answer is clearly no.

        1. This. Also, “Maybe you should consider poly” when the dude just yanked the rug out from under her is so not the time for her to consider jack-fucking shit. It comes off as emotional blackmail–you want to save the marriage? Put up with this and stop letting this little trivial thing here bother you! Stop being such a prude.

          And pay no attention to the fact that–as you’d mentioned upthread–women have safety and cultural sexist BS issues to consider, so even if he’d be totally okay with her finding different partners, realistically she has a metric fuck-ton of patriarchal bullshit (including the inherent safety concerns and slut-shaming) to contend with and is less likely to have the fun sexy times that he will.

          Honestly. I am sickened by the judgmental prude-baiting and shaming I’m seeing from several commenters here. Trying to introduce the concept after pulling a move like this would be a fucking shit sack of manipulation.

    4. “It’s a complete fiction that if you’re REALLY in love, you don’t notice other men/women or desire them or want to feel desired.”

      Complete fiction, eh? Well pardon me for being fictional. I am in love with my husband, have been for thirty years, and don’t notice other people sexually, desire them, or want to be desired by them. Ditto my husband. Neither is our marriage ‘hard work’. Yes, we’re lucky, but I really, really doubt we’re all that rare, let alone fictional.

      1. Thank you so much for posting this comment! After years of being told by poly (now ex) friends that I was uptight, old fashioned, narrow minded, and self denying for being monogamous, and kinda weird for not even being attracted to anyone other than my partner, it is a relief to read this.

        1. Those ex-friends of yours really are confusing levels here. Even if you had a relationship in which you and your husband had agreed that you could see other people, you wouldn’t be doing so, because you don’t want to. And not wanting to is absolutely a reason not to get involved with someone. Even if you were with someone who was poly himself, and had another partner: being okay with that is a separate thing from wanting multiple partners yourself.

          1. Confusion is right. I think the problem was more these individuals rather than poly as a concept, but it does get hijacked a lot as an excuse for asshattery.

        2. Anybody who tells you that you are uptight, old-fashioned, narrow-minded and self-denying because your boundaries don’t match theirs is a lying, insecure poo-bag.

      2. See, I’m kind of the opposite – I never stopped noticing that people other than Mr C were hot or feeling attracted to them. But you know what I didn’t do, no matter how attractive I considered any of my friends to be? Encourage them to send me naked pictures while knowing that my partner would consider that Not OK, or allow them to suggest that we might hook up at X event without pointing out very clearly that that wasn’t going to happen.

      3. Eh, I don’t think the point was that nobody is like that, only that there’s this myth that true love means that Hottie McHottasticson could plop down naked on your desk and huskily whisper “take me!” and your only reaction would be “hey, you’re blocking my tape dispenser”, because true love is like that, and if you even have a fleeting thought about anyone else you are a BAD PARTNER.

        Though that in no way supports the conclusion that QED, it’s okay to act on that noticing-of-other-people by secretly having naked-photo flirtations.

      4. I took that statement to mean that it’s a complete fiction that a person’s love is only real if they never notice other men/women etc., that that is the marker of TWUE WUV

        I don’t think it was saying that EVERY person notices other people even when they’re in love, just that it’s not true that no one who’s in love will ever notice other people.

        1. I hope that’s what it meant – the original comment’s talk about how superior poly is got me reading it through my Hostile Glasses.

      5. Cool, wanna hang out some time and be fictional together? Do you think it’ll be anything like the Book World in the Thursday Next series?

        I do occasionally notice that other people are attractive, but that’s very different from actually being attracted to them.

        1. Belated LOL to your cool answer, Becky!

          This is like a huge rarrrrrr argument that happened on ManBoobz recently, partly about the distinction between “thinking someone is nice looking/attractive/beautiful” and “being sexually attracted to them”. That was a subset of it, but yeah … I get weary of the idea that acknowledging beauty means sexual attraction, and the notion that everyone is sexually attracted to more than one person (or anyone!).

    5. An important distinction: LW doesn’t say she’d leave if he flirted. She says she’d leave if he lied. Now, given that he almost certainly did lie, she will now have to think about whether to carry that out (and she’s under no obligation either way) but they are not the same thing.

      Honesty and monogamy are both Difficult for many, but the LW gets to set either or both as dealbreakers if she likes without having fingers wagged at her for being unrealistic. (Which, incidentally, autocorrect insists ought to be “intrauterine”.)

    6. “Now, I’m not the insufferable holier-than-thou poly person who looks down on the monogamous.”

      The jury’s still out on whether you look down on the monogamous (though all signs currently point to “probably”), but suggesting to someone who feels that their partner is cheating on them and is upset about it that now might be the time to consider going poly? That actually is pretty damn insufferable.

    7. Okay, there are enough problems with people taking back the cheating bastard because “oh he said he would really try this time and monogamy is really hard for him and I don’t want to be mean” without people bolstering that excuse (I’m also projecting, I guess). Relationships can survive cheating but I’m pretty sure remorse has to be a part of that as well as forgiveness.

      Also “the home created for the children” bit in another comment is complete and utter bull. There’s this running myth that children need two parents even if it makes both of them miserable. Guess what, miserable parents make miserable children, and a thing known as child maintenance exists to solve that whole needing two incomes thing anyway. Single Parent Household Survivor away!

      1. Relationships can survive cheating but I’m pretty sure remorse has to be a part of that as well as forgiveness.

        This. Dear Sugar’s column # 81 is a good example of what that can look like–it’s not pretty, and it’s not easy. And the LW has no obligation to go down that path if she doesn’t want to.

      2. Double parent household still-living-in who can’t deal with people raising their voices and is incredibly sensitive to small expressions of frustration! My parents do even seem to like being married to each other… most of the time. But the passive-aggressiveness and arguing when they do disagree (or more often, when my father doesn’t like something my mother’s done or not done) have really done a number on at least two of the five of their kids.

  13. Is anybody interested in hearing the narrative of the Dreaded WhoreBeast Skank Who Steals Men? Cuz that was totally me a few years ago. As others have said, LW, this woman didn’t promise you anything, and dollars to donuts, your husband has been lying to her just as much as he’s been lying to you.

    1. I’ve been that Dreaded Whorebeast, too, except, not…and yes, there were many lies involved and none of them were mine.

      1. When I was the Dreaded WhoreBeast, I tried to break it off and the poor innocent man I had so brazenly seduced broke into my apartment. Also he sabotaged my attempts to repair my truck so I couldn’t leave the state to get away from him. I’m awful!

      2. I’ve been the Dreaded Whorebeast twice and I’m not even 21. The first time was naive me believing his lies (we’re not in love, I’m going to break up with her, I just relate to you in a way I can’t to her etc), the second time he had denied to my face that he was in a relationship or even interested in the woman he was in fact dating.

        Because I knew the partner of the second way, things got SEVERELY messy. I was feeling angry and betrayed by him because I liked her and didn’t want to hurt her. She was feeling angry and betrayed because she really liked this dude and relied on him for emotional support. So she blamed me. It was really unpleasant, and those two are still together and I would lay money on him having someone else on the side.

        The point is, it’s easy to demonise these women, but they didn’t act alone. Like the saying goes, it takes two to tango. If the fallout is not falling most heavily on the person in the relationship, something is fucked up.

        1. Ugh, I got branded The Dreaded Whore Beast a few years ago by a former friend of my fiancé. He’d been in a relationship with this other girl and everyone thought they would be together forever. However, I had secretly liked him and never said it once, but when they split up, we got together. Turns out he’d secretly liked me too. We’re getting married next year, but you wouldn’t believe the fallout! I was called a homewrecker, I’d ruined everything, I’d allegedly destroyed their lovely little circle of friends. This went on for two to three years, but thankfully EVENTUALLY fizzled out.

          But I didn’t jump him and put a gun to his head, it was entirely mutual, but because I was “the other woman”, I was the one who got demonised and my fiancé was the poor innocent party who got led astray.

          My point is you can’t assume he’s completely oblivious and innocent. He’s not.

          1. Yup, the Dreaded Whorebeast/ Innocent Led Astray Passive Husband myth is incredibly sexist. That’s why I think the LW’s husband should end his interaction with this old friend himself, not with the LW. He encouraged the interaction and the message is not “Ooops, well we were having fun til my Controlling Wife caught me red handed”.

      3. Yep, I’ve been the Dreaded Whorebeast, too – twice. The first time, he swore to me up one side and down the other that he and his wife were separated, and he was sleeping on the couch until he could find a place of his own. This was the Bay Area, where housing is crazy expensive, so I believed him. Until one day his wife called me yelling and screaming and crying that I was breaking up their family, and he suddenly denied everything he’d ever told me.

        Second guy responded to a personal ad I’d posted. He wasn’t married, but living with his partner, and told me all the same “it’s over, I just can’t leave yet, but our relationship is dead blah blah blah” bs. I assumed it was all a lie, but figured if he sought me out, that was his call and on him. So I let him do all the pursuing (fit right in with our power exchange anyway), and kept him at an emotional distance.

        Then – unexpected twist time – turns out he was the one guy out of a gazillion that wasn’t lying. After 3 years of off-and-on hook-ups, he broke up with his partner and we started dating for realz. Of course, after being the Other Woman for so long, I had a hard time fully trusting him – for the first time ever I occasionally got jealous, which of course doesn’t make for a good relationship.

        And actually, I’ve been on the LW’s side, too. Second Guy actually pulled something almost exactly like this a couple years into our relationship. He hooked up with another woman while I was out of the country for a few months – which was totally legit, we’d made a “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t get emotionally involved” agreement before I left. But she continued to pursue him for the next 6 months and he passively led her on, until I happened to glance over while he was texting one night (NYE, at that) and saw a text where she was declaring her love to him. I never once thought to blame her – she didn’t even know about me, and it was all on Second Guy for leading her on.

        So, yeah. Don’t blame the Dreaded Whorebeast. Odds are, your partner carries most – if not all – of the blame.

      4. Oh yes, add another to the Dreaded Whorebeast count here. And I wasn’t any hotter than Wronged Woman either :-). However, I admit I was just as gullible.. No, more gullible, it wasn’t till several years later that I realized the extent of the lies.

      5. Another Whorebeast here. I am still getting evil looks from the ex-wife of someone I slept with 20 years ago. He was a friend (at the time), I knew he was seeing her, but he was also seeing three other women casually. He told me he was “dating around” and “not serious about anybody” and I only found out later that he’d gotten her pregnant, they subsequently got married, and then he spent all 10 years of their marriage deriding her for “not losing the baby weight” and cheating on her and using the story of his two booty calls with me to make her feel like crap.

        When I heard they divorced, I wanted to send her an anonymous, celebratory gift. And now I see her at my kids’ school and she shoots me Eyes of Fire every time.

        I hate that guy soooooo hard.

      6. Yeah, I’ve been the Dreaded Whorebeast, and I will even admit to continuing after I knew that his protestations of singlehood were untrue. Some of the lies were mine. This is not an episode of my life I’m proud of.

      7. I’m late to the party, but the weekend’s finally here, so I have some time to post. I’m replying to this tangent, more than the original LW, because I think the commentary has already covered all of that very thoroughly. I have been that Other Woman too. In my case, I met him hitchhiking, so I had no social frame of reference and had to rely entirely on what he told me. And he lied from the very beginning, The story changed slowly, and only as little as he had to acknowledge. First, it was I am single and that woman’s voice on the answering machine is for Dramatic Reasons. Then it was, we’re divorced. Then separated. And so on.

        The evidence was all around his house and in his actions that he was still married. But I didn’t want to believe it. I so badly wanted to believe that my trust in him was not misplaced. And so I let myself be swayed by his lies. What finally made me stop was when the neighbor told me that I seemed like a nice person, so did I really want to be a home wrecker. I couldn’t deny the reality of the situation anymore at that point, and yet ending it was hard. Even though I’d already moved away for work, and it had become LDR. I cried uncontrollably for quite awhile after that. And mostly I was upset with myself for letting myself be fooled, for going along with what I knew was lies because I so wanted to believe in him and for my trust to be validated. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies and collude with the deceit because the truth is too hard to face, at least at that time.

    2. Oooh, good point. How many times do we read letters from someone on the hook for someone who’s relationship is “bad,” and they swear they’re going to break up with their partner “soon”? LW, it sounds like some radical honesty is needed, and I hope your husband can get there.

        1. Lordy. And if it’s that bad then they should exit the relationship, not drag a third party into it.

          1. Oh, but they are only staying because the wife threatened to harm herself and he’s a Nice Guy so he has to look after her.

            I have a friend who fell for the Emotional Wasteland I Plan To Leave Soon crap. Turned out, the guy and his wife were having IVF treatment and he was cheating on his wife in case the treatment didn’t work so he would have another woman to have a child with.

            My friend had no clue, he had told her they just lived in the same house for economic reasons and had their own lives.

            The wife found out, was devastated.

            The guy said my friend had seduced him.

        2. “Nobody understaaaannnnds me like you doooooo!!! I’m alll alonnneeeee!!!”

          UGH been there, done that, donated the T-shirt to Goodwill.

    3. AHH can we crowd-source a Macbeth in which the three witches are ‘Hosebeast’, ‘WhoreBeast’, and ‘The Eternal Skank’??

      1. I actually may be assistant directing/designing a high school production of MacBeth in the spring. My high schoolers would love this.

        1. Yes! Make it happen! Double, double, facebook trouble/friending burns the married couple (Except it’s not the friending, is it? It’s the Poor Innocent Man*, burning everybody.)

          *h/t sarahcircusnachos

    4. Ooh, hey, can I join the club? Granted there was no actual romance/sex on my end, but my, er, “opposite number” I suppose, certainly thought there was.

      Yeah, the fibbin’ goes on both sides, because the person in the middle (I really just want to say “guy” but that’s not always the case) has to justify things. And if both parties are aware of the other, he’ll use one as an excuse: “No, I can’t go out tonight, ___ said she really needs to see me.” Etc. You never really get a clean story of what the other person said or did unless you hear it from them and not the guy in the middle.

    5. I got dubbed Evil Snake Woman when I was in that situation, which is kind of hilarious considering my social ineptitude and lack of dating experience. Also hilarious: when said dude dumped me and he got accepted back into the social group that expelled both of us, while I remained on the outside for being said Evil Snake Woman. Ah, good times.

    6. I refer to a particular woman in my past as She Who Is Regretfully Not On Fire, although she was not, in fact, doing anything wrong according to the actual agreements made by people. (And then I went away from common social spaces, because I could not deal gracefully, and that was my own damn problem and not hers.)

      It’s that whole men-are-helpless-puppies thing, unable to think in the presence of BOOBS. Can’t expect them to act better, no, it must be the fault of the BOOBBEARER.

  14. From my experiences, this guy could very likely be somewhere between ‘planning to cheat’ and ‘oblivious and trying not to hurt her’. I think he was very likely enjoying the flirty attention. The internet aspect meant it was probably only half-real to him, at least at the beginning. It’s pleasant to have the ‘forbidden thrill’ of someone pursuing you like that. Since you actually saw the messages in question, it doesn’t sound like he was telling her ‘oh yes, we will definitely hook up and I will leave my wife for you!’

    But, he doesn’t have to have been doing those things for it to still hurt you. I went through a similar situation (not naked pictures, but heavy flirting mostly initiated by her but never outright rejected) and it was really a wakeup call when I stated to him what had happened from my perspective. ‘Either you literally could not stop yourself, or you did it anyway knowing it would hurt me. Neither of these is acceptable.’

    I understand the perspectives of the people here saying that the husband is either deliberately gaslighting or there’s more going on than the OP knows about. But, I think it’s just as possible that there’s no more going on. And that’s still not OK.

    1. Exactly. And if it is just passive attention-enjoying, what happens when he gets to the reunion? He’s suddenly going to find his spine and enforce a boundary?

      1. Well, could be he would if he’s been operating all along on a kind of “Oh this is Internet Time, nothing that happens here counts“. Or he might not.

        ‘Either you literally could not stop yourself, or you did it anyway knowing it would hurt me. Neither of these is acceptable.’

        THIS a thousand times.

        1. Yeah, it’s impossible to say. I believe a lot of affairs get started kind of ‘little by little’. Oh, it’s just a bit of harmless flirting, why would I tell my husband, it’s just a little ego boost for me? All right, so I’m having coffee with her, and I didn’t tell my girlfriend, but it would just worry her when I know there’s nothing to worry about. Uh oh, we kissed–but we were drinking, so it doesn’t really count, I won’t say anything to my boyfriend. And so on. So who knows, by the time the reunion came around, if things hadn’t stopped, he might have been in a position where cheating didn’t seem like ‘that big a deal’.

          Or, he might have got there and the idea of physically doing anything would be totally wrong. Or maybe he’d have realised months ago on his own that the flirting was inappropriate and stopped it himself. It’s scary not to know what your partner would’ve done if you hadn’t found out when you did.

          Not everyone who flirts, even to the degree of commenting on naked pictures, would necessarily cheat. But, it’s not a good road to start walking. (Meaning more the ‘hiding things from your partner’ road, rather than the ‘flirting with others’ road..)

    2. ‘Either you literally could not stop yourself, or you did it anyway knowing it would hurt me. Neither of these is acceptable.’

      THIS, SO MUCH.

      There is no reasonable explanation for the husband’s behavior–ego trip, thoughts of cheating, obliviousness, neural misfiring… It just really sucks when crap like this happens and it falls (unfairly) on the wronged party’s shoulders to clean it up. I sincerely hope that LW shoves the workload onto the husband like CA advises and makes it All His Problem, but that happens so much less often than it should.

  15. I have a question I guess, to the community, on the same sort of issue.

    I’ve caught my boyfriend in the same sort of situation. A girl at work, for example, came on to him saying “You should hook up with (other coworker), I won’t tell your girlfriend. Common’ and other stuff such as that. He didn’t say “Yes, let me” but he did say “lol” and “your bad” and other such things.. but didn’t quite say no. He said it was awkward for him to say no, he works with her, it was harmless, “that’s just what she’s like”, but he was chatting (harmlessly) to other coworker to.

    I believe him. He didn’t cheat. No harm done. But… it feels wrong? Also, we met on an online dating site and he tends to not say a complete goodbye to the girls he used to chat with. Ya, he “picked me”, but it’s almost ask if he still chats with them to keep his options open. I find this wrong too. But, I don’t know if this is just me being insecure.

    He’s never cheated, or went on a date, or exchanged photos and his interaction seems pretty harmless. But, I guess I just think a) I wouldn’t do the same, it’s wrong and would make me feel guilty and b) How can you be committed to a relationship if you keep options hanging around? Isn’t it playing with fire?

    I just sort of want to know if this behaviour is skeezy. I want to know if I should say something, trust and shut up, or move on from the relationship.

      1. I also got a skeezy vibe, but I think there might be a difference between the two examples. I would personally not like it if my boyfriend had coworkers trying to convince him to cheat on me and he didn’t tell them it wasn’t going to happen. But the chatting online thing seems a little more context-dependent to me. Some people use dating sites exclusively to find potential partners; some people also use them to find friends, and are good at becoming platonic buddies with people they meet who they just didn’t click with romantically.

        That said, Melissa, you get to set your own boundaries and you should listen to your gut. If it feels skeezy to you then it doesn’t really matter if it’s objectively naughty or just outside your comfort zone.

        1. Yep. And given you’re uncomfortable enough about this you’re asking the question, I would say it’s time to have a conversation about ‘this makes me feel a little weird, can we renegotiate some boundaries?’ Good luck!

    1. As for the online dating site chatting stuff, how long have you been together? If you’re together pretty recently, that makes more sense to me and will probably taper off naturally.

      The work thing is a little gross, but also not completely horrible. I totally understand the letting-people-save-face thing.

      Taken together, however, something is tingling your spidey senses so it’s worth talking about exclusivity, flirting, expectations, how things are working out for both of you. Not a “You’re doing it wrong,” talk, but “Where are we with all of this?” talk.

    2. The work thing sounds like it might be skeezy, or it might just be a really awkward attempt to shut it down by treating the idea like she cannot possibly be serious and is obviously just teasing. Especially if she caught him by surprise with that (radically inappropriate for work!) comment, the Laughing Politely Defense is sometimes just the easiest thing to reach for when people say uncomfortable or wildly inappropriate things that you do not wish to engage with at all. It is not the bravest reaction, but I will admit to having used it on more than one occasion. In theory, being all like OH DEAR, YOU DO SAY THE DROLLEST THINGS to someone who is telling you something inappropriate but totally for serious manages to publicly let them save face but also be very dismissive. In practice it is often just awkward.

      The online dating chat thing sounds a bit skeezier to me, but I admit I don’t know very much about online dating.

    3. FWIW, i vote for say something. Because if you two discuss this and make an agreement, it will be clear – if you say to him “hey this makes me uncomfortable” and he says “so i’ll stop” but keeps doing it, he’s being skeevy. If you say to him “hey this makes me uncomfortable” and he says “it makes me uncomfortable too but i feel like it’s how i keep my job”, you get to decide if you’re cool with that. If he says “I’m sorry it makes you uncomfortable but I like the online chatting and I won’t stop” then you get to decide if you’re cool with that, or not.

      I was on OKCupid for like 10 years after i moved in with my boyfriend. I liked the tests back when they were spark of whatever they used to be, I looked at dudes my friends were chatting with, I browsed a little but never contacted anyone. It had 0% to do with my relationship with my partner – but if he’d been bothered by it, I would have stopped.

  16. Oh dear. LW, you really need to stop projecting your anger/feelings of betrayal onto the other woman, because she’s not the one who wronged you. Your husband is. I don’t believe for a second that he didn’t look at those pictures, but even if he hadn’t, he knowingly engaged in a very obviously sexual interaction with another woman while knowing that is not OK in your relationship. And then he lied when confronted about it. Not only that, if your child has access to that FB account, he’s also being a bad parent in conducting his flirtation with his old hs buddy in a venue in which the kid might run across it and be confused, upset, or worried that mommy and daddy are going to get a divorce. So at best he looks incredibly irresponsible here.

    I can tell that you really, really want to be able to shift the blame entirely to the other woman because that’s so much less uncomfortable than confronting your partner, but confronting your partner is what you need to do. And I wonder if you know that, and just need people to point it out so that you can psyche yourself up to do the hard but necessary work of actually talking to your partner about this. So, here I am, telling you to please stop trying to make this situation all about a third party and actually focus that attention back on your husband where it belongs. You’re letting him off the hook in order to avoid conflict, and that’s a very bad idea in the long run.

  17. There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff here in the comments, and i don’t want to repeat it all. So I’m going to try to talk about something a little different.

    I think that often (not always), when cheating is happening, or when activities-that-neighbor-on-cheating are happening, something is going wrong with the cheater’s life or primary relationship that has them feeling significantly unfulfilled and looking for greener pastures.

    Maybe this is an actual problem with the marriage, or the sex within the marriage, or communication, or falling out of love, or whatever.

    Or maybe it’s something like depression or anxiety, whether well-founded (ack money recession layoffs ack) or mental illness. It could be existential, like the midlife crisis, where a person is all “whoa is this my life? When did that happen? Is this what I want it to be? WTF?”

    LW, while it’s not always true that people stray because something’s wrong at home, it’s often true that when something’s wrong at home, people look for answers in the wrong places. This is not to blame you, or him, or anyone; shit can go wrong without anyone actually fucking up. (this would be, shit going wrong before the flirting and sexting, I mean. That was some pretty clear fucking up.)

    What this means, or might mean, for you is that now you’ve got two problems. You’ve got dealing with the aftermath of this incident — and I do agree strongly with folks above who say you’ve got to deal with your husband, not the chick. He’s the one who made a promise to you, after all. So you’ve got to get to the truth of things with him, which unfortunately may be very difficult because he quite reasonably fears the intensity of your reaction. But without truth there’s not going to be healing, you know? Then you’ve possibly got whatever was going wrong before, whatever disconnect you had, whatever stress was getting in your way as a couple.

    To make things even harder, *both* of you have to be committed to finding and fixing the underlying problems. If you’re stuck on the almost-infidelity, you won’t be able to do work; if he’s in denial about whatever led him to make that choice; he won’t be able to do work. He has to re-earn your trust; you have to learn how to forgive and offer it. As problems go, it’s a complicated bitch.

    But you’re not alone.

    For dealing right now, the captain’s advice is, as always, very very good. Then, if you want to get past this, I strongly suggest you get therapists, for you, for him, for couples, whatever you can and whatever feels good. For you: you have anger and mistrust and need space to figure out what you want to do. For him: he needs to figure out what is going on with him and whether this is his way of trying to leave the relationship, or what. For the both of you: if you want to stay together, to fix communication, make agreements, get some radical honesty happening.

    The good news is that if you do work through this (and actually work through it, rather than just sort of let it go into past without really addressing it and have it simmer in the back of your mind, ready to boil over), it can bring you more closely together and make your relationship stronger.

    1. I agree with what you’ve written. I’ve been trying to pinpoint for a while now what it was about the LW’s husband’s reaction that bugged me, and I think it’s that he managed to deflect any deeper looks into his actions by focusing on “will she leave/won’t she leave,” rather than giving an honest explanation of what was happening and why. I mean, something like “I was feeling lonely since the kid has been born” gives you something to work with, but something like “I swear I never looked and just didn’t want to hurt her feelings” is BS and I don’t think I’d be able to trust him afterwards with just that explanation.

      LW, I am sending you so many Jedi hugs. I really sincerely hope you all get through this unscathed, including the kiddo.

    2. “This is not to blame you, or him, or anyone; shit can go wrong without anyone actually fucking up.”

      Really? That’s exactly what it sounds like you’re doing. “Are you unhappy” and “Will you commit to monogamy” are two very, very separate questions. LW and her husband can and should discuss the former at length but don’t assume a causal relationship between the two. The husband is a grown-ass adult and if he’s unhappy, he’s free to use his words to express that to his wife instead of flirting online. He’s not under the spell of the Magical Boner Werebeast (thanks, Cliff!) and can exercise self-control if he wants to.

      Is it too much to ask for an adult to take responsibility for their actions? If everyone with a mental illness or a stressful life got a pass on their behavior, or had no control over their actions, then the world would be filled with sociopathic children in adults’ bodies dropping FEELINGS!BOMBS everywhere.

      1. Yeah, seriously.

        It’s possible for the relationship to move forward if the husband realizes he made a mistake, is genuinely remorseful, and takes steps to keep himself from ever making the same mistake again. Cheating, or almost-cheating, doesn’t necessarily make someone a terrible person–but it does mean that they fucked up, and they need to acknowledge that if they want any chance of staying with their partner.

      2. I didn’t really take that comment that way — I thought it went more with the previous sentiment about how sometimes people have really exceptionally poor coping mechanisms, and that depression/anxiety/what-have-you aren’t anyone’s fault, and that the poor coping mechanisms may not be malicious. Erg, I’m not sure if that makes sense, though? My reading comprehension is lowered due to the massive amounts of NyQuil I’ve been taking?

        I feel like what I keep coming back to is that the LW’s initial reaction of anger and hurt and betrayal and of blaming the “other woman” needs to be followed-up with some deep-searching questions about the relationship, expectations, boundaries, etc. I think we are all mostly in agreement on all of that.

        1. Yeah, that’s where I’m going. That there could be some shit to dig up underneath the cheating problem and it really sucks to have to deal with *both* the cheating and whatever else is there all at once now.

          I mean, talk about your lousy day.

          1. There could be, but there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that. I think we’re all on the same page about ‘talk it out with your husband’ but I don’t think there’s any need to preemptively make excuses for anyone. There might be serious underlying problems, or maybe he simply made a series of stupid mistakes without thinking about what the consequences might be. I’m certainly not suggesting that he’s an unforgivable monster or that the relationship is doomed. However, I do think it’s a huge cop-out to say that stress or mental illness ‘made’ a person hurt another person.

      3. I mean: shit can go wrong with relationships without anyone fucking up. Layoffs, illness, stress, fatigue on the negative side, or even outgrowing your partner on the positive side. Discovering god when you’re with an atheist or vice versa. The house burning down. The cat dying. You name it, shit happens.

        Sometimes, people deal poorly with shit having gone wrong. Sometimes, this is cheating. Sometimes it’s drinking, sometimes it’s self-denial, sometimes it’s too much time on the internet or video games or in the bathroom or whatever. People can have poor coping skills.

        I do not consider this an excuse, but I do consider it a reason. The difference is important, because hell yes you have to hold him responsible for his behavior. But at the same time, if you do not address the reason, then the reason will *still be there* and more problems are likely further down the line.


        When my cat died, it got really hard for me to keep the kitchen clean. Cleaning the kitchen is one of my jobs in the house, so when I don’t clean it, I am letting down my spouse. He sometimes gets angry about it. Who can blame him? Sometimes he can’t even make an egg for breakfast.

        His anger is totally reasonable and appropriate, and my choice to not clean the kitchen is not a healthy one for us. I am dealing poorly.

        But the underlying problem here is my cat died and I’m grieving. So once we know the real problem, we can solve it or manage it *together*, as a team. Otherwise we’re opponents.

        Letting the kitchen get smelly is not like cheating, or almost cheating, on your spouse, but the story illustrates how the underlying problem can be just as important, if not more important, than the surface conflict.

        1. Hrmmmm…

          Understanding the underlying cause of something can be very useful in finding a useful workaround when everyone is playing fair.

          But it’s really on the person who is doing the bad stuff to speak up, seek, find, and make that workaround happen. “I’m having a hard time cleaning the kitchen right now, can you take over for a week or so and I’ll do x chore instead” vs. not cleaning the kitchen and then getting all wounded when your partner is pissed off and saying “Well, I was GRIEVING” as an excuse – not that you did that, but that’s the argument you’re making.

          When you’ve done something shitty to someone or hurt someone’s feelings, it is NOT the time to bring up your mitigating circumstances and fully explore them. That results in those terrible “I am sorry I hurt you, but it’s just that I’m a terrible person and you should probably comfort me for all of my issues” distracto-non-apologies that are seriously garbage.

          Get the apology all the way out. Later is the time for digging into reasons. If you’re bringing your mitigating reasons into the middle of your apology you’re self-justifying and manipulating. Part of getting through a bad thing you did intact is giving the other person permission to just be mad at you for a bit.

          When one partner or friend does something hurtful and shitty, and the other person (instead of looking to her own feelings and what she deserves) immediately looks for the mitigating reason for why they must have done that, they end up still angry as hell but also feeling helpless because
          they feel like they have to have compassion and empathy for the other person’s reasons above all. Often (but far from always) this plays out in a very gendered way, where men do bad things because they are just so pained and misunderstood and not good at expressing emotions but women should have known better.

          Lots of abusers, cheaters, drunks, and assholes have legit problems – mental illness, grief, boredom, shitty day at work – that correlate or mitigate but do not cause their shitty behaviors. I think it is important that we resist – strongly and with prejudice – the urge to advise a victim of shitty behavior to look into reasons why the person might have treated them so badly. Too often it’s a manipulation or a distraction, when what you need to focus on is your own heart and how it feels and it’s not your job to diagnose why it happened.

          1. Wow I am totally failing at communication today, I think! Last try. Then I shall eat chocolate.

            I am trying to do several things in this conversation. I didn’t even realize it until I numbered them, no wonder I can’t speak clearly.

            0. Acknowledge that most of the cheating-specific conversation is well-covered in the rest of this thread. Seriously, folks, you’re pretty great!

            1. Notice that cheating is often a symptom of deeper problems or miscommunications, and warn that it might be a Thing that is happening. I do not intend to excuse cheating, just to acknowledge that sometimes there’s deeper shit going on that can trigger cheating behavior.

            2. Sympathize with the difficult position the LW is in. Not only does she have to deal with this whole cheating thing, there’s also the (presumed) Underlying Stuff going on to deal with. Just cheating is hard enough to handle, and whatever leads to it is probably pretty nasty in a marriage, so it is especially difficult all together.

            3. Warn that if, indeed, there is some underlying something, and the LW and her husband choose to stay together without addressing that underlying something, then future problems are likely.

            I definitely don’t mean to say that someone’s legit problems are a get-out-of-cheating-free card. I don’t even think it’s a get-out-of-washing-dishes card!

            What I did when I failed at the kitchen and my spouse was angry, was I let him be angry. Then I apologized, and owned my mess. Then I talked about my limitations, and he listened to those. Then we talked about what we need to do for now and how we both consider it a temporary measure until I’m back to myself again. Now we have a kind of background GRRR KITCHEN going on, because neither of us is really happy with things as they are, but it’s temporary, it’s acceptable, and most importantly, it brings us together instead of driving us apart. We have a plan.

            If I am still not making sense, I am sorry. Thanks for the comment, Captain, that showed me how much I was not managing to say!

        2. I think you explained yourself pretty well! I got what you meant from your original comment. 🙂

          Also, I am sorry about your cat. 😦 Pets are important, and it’s perfectly reasonable that you wouldn’t be up for your normal amount of kitchen-cleaning while grieving for the kitty. Any good partner should understand that (which, luckily, it seems that your partner did!).

          1. I strongly object to the last line in #1 above, “trigger cheating behavior”, so much NO. Shit going on triggers feelings but the way you say that you are still giving an excuse for cheating even if it’s not your intention. No matter what deep shit is going on in a relationship, said shit does not trigger LYING and doing hurtful things to your spouse. At it’s root, cheating is lying, it is not giving your spouse the information to make decisions that are important and integral to their life. It is stealing life itself from your spouse because your choices determine your life.

            My RL example of how this excuse plays out is my own cheating husband blaming me for cheating on me. His reasons were “deeper shit”, shit he never talked to me about, ever. And that is what “deeper shit” should trigger, working with your spouse to fix it or break up. I get your analogy but it breaks down when there are lies, when there is dishonesty and/or gaslighting. Not cleaning the kitchen without first discussing it with your SO is nothing like the completely unethical lying that goes on when someone chooses to cheat.

            Quote: “1. Notice that cheating is often a symptom of deeper problems or miscommunications, and warn that it might be a Thing that is happening. I do not intend to excuse cheating, just to acknowledge that sometimes there’s deeper shit going on that can trigger cheating behavior.”

  18. Getting back to first principles, when old flames contact you with FEELINGSMAIL and you’re in a relationship, it’s time to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Perhaps before letting people onto the internet, there should be a training video.

          1. I can’t take credit — that goes to Ice Cube. I also have a button that I wear on my fedora that says, “Spell check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Cuz I’m nerdy like that.

  19. The poly derail in these comments has been interesting, precisely because of how incredibly irrelevant it is. LW, it does not matter one bit what you have decided to be the boundaries of your relationship are in the details because what has happened here is that your husband broke a boundary that was important to you. That happens in monogamous relationships, it happens in poly relationships, and what that boundary was is not something that’s important to an outside view of the relationship.

    What is important is that there was a boundary that was implicitly or explicitly agreed upon in your relationship and he broke it. I’m going to assume it was explicit because he was so upset/worked hard to downplay and keep it hidden. I think what may help you in dealing with this is not to think of it as “he flirted with another woman and allowed her to send naked pictures” but that “he did something he knew was unacceptable in our relationship and didn’t even tell me about this happening”.

    I think to move on from this you and he need to discuss a few things. Firstly, make all boundaries very explicit with a conversation about them, so that neither of you ever feel like you’re not sure if you’re doing something wrong or not. Then emphasise the importance of honesty in setting these boundaries, and talking about problems with them. Then talk about how you as a couple would deal with one of you breaking such a boundary. What would be his ideal behaviour after fucking up? What would you need from him?

    I think this kind of discussion will help you to feel more secure in the future and more able to move forward from this incident. Good luck, LW.

    1. I very much agree, with one caveat: don’t let the boundaries conversation devolve into a round of legalistic nitpicking. If the other party isn’t bargaining in good faith, I know from experience that nothing you do is going to make it work.

      1. Oh yeah, absolutely. Don’t let him rules-lawyer you and if you feel he isn’t taking the discussion seriously/in good faith, be pissed off.

        I have a general rule in my relationship to cover anything that isn’t clear in boundaries we’ve made verbally explicit “If you feel guilty about doing it, I’m probably going to be pissed off by what you’re doing.”

        Obviously that only works once you’re in a place where you understand the *meaning* of each others boundaries, not just a specific list, and yeah, I think boundary conversations should be approached with the intention of getting to a point of feeling like you know what would bother the other person, not drawing yourself up a dossier of what you can and can’t get in trouble for.

        1. Everything you say here is spot on. And in cases where you aren’t sure if something is a boundary violation, just ASK! “Honey, my ex-girlfriend just friend-requested me on Facebook. Would you mind if I added her?”

    2. CA: If this seems like it’s reopening the derail, feel free to nuke it. My point here is about the importance of negotiation and boundaries, whatever -gamy you practice.

      And this is why I think the ultimate intended communication of the poly derail (even though it was so badly stated and thus all bad and derail-y, and I don’t wish to defend the tone or exact content of that comment thread) – monogamy can be hard precisely the fine details of the boundary are rarely negotiated in advance (we assume and so are not well defined – isn’t irrelevant. Does it mean no flirting? Does it mean no photos? Does it just mean no sex? Does it mean no romantic interactions, but sex is ok? People have different assumptions about these things.

      This guy fucked up and I would definitely encourage them to sit down and talk this out and figure out what boundaries they want in their relationship.

      1. The husband knows that he’s violated the boundaries of this particular relationship, however they negotiated their boundaries (whether it was with assumptions or with discussions), and it would be super-fishy if he tried the “but we never explicitly said that was wrong, so how was I to know?” defense at this particular time. Also, why is the default assumption that monogamy is decided on without any of these discussions or negotiations taking place? SOMETIMES it is, sure, because it is the default assumption, but not always or even most times.

        1. Erk. It looks like I got distracted halfway through and some of what I said makes no sense (there’s a missing close parens, even. gah.), and then alphakitty said WAY better what I was fumbling to say. I have the urge to respond, but my point’s not relevant to this LW, will stop here.

        2. Speaking only for me, it wasn’t so much a matter of default assumptions as the vibe I got off this letter, that maybe they hadn’t talked a lot of stuff out. And when the husband got those emails, he told himself the lie that this was harmless and had nothing to do with his wife or marriage, as long as he didn’t actually go hook up with the old gf. Which I agree was stupid and self-deluding and could have gotten him in a lot of trouble if he went to the reunion and the old gf made a heavy play, ’cause he doesn’t seem to have much in the way of boundaries/backbone!

          My guess is that he realized as soon as his wife confronted him with it that that was really stupid and self-deluding and that he had screwed up big-time (duh!), but unfortunately he did what a lot of people do in such situations and instead of manning-up and saying “Jeez, I don’t know what I was thinking, I absolutely should have said ‘I’m married, this is inappropriate, don’t contact me again,’ and I promise that if anyone ever makes another pass at me again that’s what I’ll do,” he reached for the “I didn’t inhale” of people caught with naked pictures of people they ought not to have naked pictures of: “I didn’t look!” You’ll note the dude is not getting a lot of respect from me.

          I offer this perspective not even slightly on Sir Doofus’s behalf, but because I don’t think it helps people to inflame their hurt beyond what the facts support. And while it might be that what some people are thinking is true, and Sir Doofus was actually Sir Dastardly who was perfectly conscious of what a wrong thing he was doing and did it anyway, it’s also possible he was more idiotic than evil, and what he needs is to take a giant developmental step forward and give some thought to what it means to be loyal to your spouse, and what he needs to do to deserve the LW’s love and trust. And to get on that.

        3. I mean, am I the only one to whom this guy’s behavior screams “thoughtless and immature?” And yeah, that can happen at any age and be an inherent character flaw. Or it can be because he’s chronologically immature, and what he needs to do is grow the fuck up, and this might be a good wake up call for him to do that?

  20. So, maybe this is a bit of a sidetrack… but she privately sent him photos on Facebook, right?

    The Facebook that is primarily created to… post photos of yourself? Publicly? For anyone to see?

    …. So what, exactly, did he think she was sending him, that she couldn’t just put up on her public page for him to see there?

    More to the point (and more importantly): What’s with the “degrees of cheating” concept that seems to be going on here? It’s edging uncomfortably close to the “legitimate rape” language situation for me. “Well, there wasn’t actually any sex, so he wasn’t REALLY cheating” is a bullshit line of thought. Or “Well, it was only flirting, so he was only cheating a little.” Or any other qualification attached to “how much” he did or didn’t cheat.

    LW, I’m not saying you should leave him. What I am saying, though, is that if it LOOKS like cheating, and it FEELS like cheating… then IT IS cheating. And if he’s cheated on you, then you need to deal with that in a manner that makes sense to you and your relationship. That might look like leaving, if you feel that’s the only thing that will make this situation better. That might look like couples counseling, or taking a break and working your stuff out separately, or just hunkering down together and retooling your relationship together…. only you can decide what’s right for you.

    What I would NOT recommend, however, is ignoring the situation and letting your husband continue to hurt you in this way. He needs to know that *his* actions hurt you, that *his* choices were not right, and that if he wants this marriage to continue, then he needs to fix *his* behavior. At this point, it is his responsibility to stop doing things that feel like cheating to you.

    As for the other woman? The best thing you can do is to ignore her. She’s not the problem here; your husband is.

    1. Yes to all of this.

      So, maybe this is a bit of a sidetrack… but she privately sent him photos on Facebook, right?
      The Facebook that is primarily created to… post photos of yourself? Publicly? For anyone to see?
      …. So what, exactly, did he think she was sending him, that she couldn’t just put up on her public page for him to see there?

      I was wondering about that too.

      1. Yeah something about his “I didn’t know they were nude pics and I didn’t even look at them anyway” just DOES NOT ADD UP. Or wait, it’s not “something,” it’s more like “everything.” Seriously, dude needs to own his behavior and be honest about what was really going on, because this kind of transparent BS is not ok.

        The more I think about this the more I am getting mad on LW’s behalf.

    2. “What’s with the “degrees of cheating” concept that seems to be going on here? It’s edging uncomfortably close to the “legitimate rape” language situation for me. “Well, there wasn’t actually any sex, so he wasn’t REALLY cheating” is a bullshit line of thought. Or “Well, it was only flirting, so he was only cheating a little.” Or any other qualification attached to “how much” he did or didn’t cheat.”

      Yes. If it’s something you can do in front of your partner and they are ok with it: flirting.

      If it’s something you cannot but do anyways: cheating.


    3. I don’t know..I do actually think that ‘degrees of cheating’ makes sense here. I don’t think that all relationship boundary violations are the same. I mean, maybe it’s semantics about the term ‘cheating’, and that to some cheating means sex, others it means physical contact, others it means anything with another person you wouldn’t want your partner to see you doing.

      But, I would definitely not treat ‘I flirted with another woman’ the same way as ‘I slept with another woman’, and calling it cheating wouldn’t occur to me. Inappropriate? Sure. But I don’t know that a zero tolerance policy is the solution. ‘He was only cheating a little’ doesn’t seem that ridiculous to me.

      I do agree about not ignoring the situation, and not shuffling blame onto the other person. I just don’t think treating it the same as if he slept with her would be helpful, because that’s not what happened. I think details do matter.

      1. Well, yes, they matter… to the LW. My point is that we, as commenters, don’t know or get to decide how much or how little the husband transgressed. So saying to LW that “He only kind of cheated” or “He only cheated a little” (paraphrasing here) looks a lot like we’re de-legitimizing her hurt and anger over what happened. Which is deeply unfair, especially considering she’s turned to us for help on the issue.

        To wit: You, personally, don’t think that treating it the same as if he slept with her would be helpful. But maybe I do. Maybe the LW does. Maybe, to the LW, it is the same thing. (It certainly would be to me, if I were in this situation with my husband.) So someone telling me that “he didn’t ACTUALLY cheat” would be extremely unhelpful and, in fact, destructive. I’m not saying she should have a zero tolerance policy; I’m saying she has the right to decide what her policy is, regardless of whether some internet-stranger decides her husband is “actually” cheating on her or not.

        You’re right, it is arguing over semantics. And my entire point to the LW is that semantics don’t matter. If she’s as hurt by this as she would be by “actual” cheating (whatever the f that might mean), then it IS actual cheating. She is allowed to define cheating in that way, because that’s what it means to her. That’s not a definition we get to impose on her.

        Just like we don’t get to decide what the consequences for cheating are in their relationship. I think we all agree that there should be some; what they need to be depends completely on what the LW needs to feel right about her world again.

    4. I know quite a few people who don’t post pictures on Facebook so that didn’t actually seem odd to me. (Though I thought it was pretty obvious they were sexy pictures for other reasons.)

      1. As someone who basically never posts self-pics on FB because of privacy concerns (and my FB is pretty much 100% not-public), I find it hard to imagine being comfortable using FB to send private messages with pics that I wouldn’t post to my page.

        That said? Either the husband is dangerously naive or knew those pix were likely to be something likely inappropriate. The whole thing is just allll fishy.

  21. LW, pay no attention to the few commenters who are either deriding you for getting angry over “just flirting” (accepting naked pics from someone and not telling them that isn’t okay isn’t flirting), telling you that you should consider poly (FFS, *not the time*) or that maybe it’s something you did/something bad in your relationship that drove him to it (then he should fucking say something).

    I will say that I agree with everyone else who feels you’re slagging off the other woman exclusively and not focusing any of your anger towards your husband. No, you do not have to leave him if you do not want to. But you should be concerned that at *best* he has weak boundaries. That’s the *most* charitable interpretation I would have of this.

    Here’s the thing: He knows he’s married. He lives with his wife and child. HIS actions matter. If they don’t–if he’s always going to fall prey to any woman out there who acts inappropriately or who ignores his marital status (or doesn’t know it and makes a play), then you may need to seriously think about what it will be like to spend your life with him. Because it would be a life with a guy with zero self-control or maturity. Focusing your anger at this woman is wrong-headed. She didn’t put a gun to your husband’s head. He willingly participated. Blaming her lets him off the hook and sets the stage for more of this bullshit. After all, it’s never his fault! You’ll be so busy blaming Those Whores that he’ll be free to continue this bullshit.

    Also? I’m seconding the side-eye to the “she’s not that hawt” line. I doubt very much that if you considered her smoking hot that this would make you feel better.

    Can you trust your husband? If another woman was to act this way, could you feel confident that he would tell her “Stop this. I am married” and cut off contact? If he feels unhappy in the marriage, would you feel confident that he would talk to you about it/go to counseling with you instead of look for distractions elsewhere?

  22. One of the things that has struck me at several points during this thread is that the people who post here are well ahead of the curve relative to the general population in terms of thinking out and articulating their relationship expectations, laying down boundaries, etc.

    Not everyone is like that. An awful lot of people fall in love with someone, get a general sense that they’d like to have that person in their lives for a really long time, maybe have some kids together, make a life, so they decide to get married. They intend to be good husbands/wives to their partners, but they don’t discuss the details of what that would consist of to make sure they and their spouse are on the same page — they just sort of assume both of them mean the same things (or close enough), including that the other person will have the same tolerance levels they do for flirting etc. and the same notions of what is hurtful and what is harmless.

    I think that’s particularly true of people in their early-to-mid 20s — which I am guessing the LW and her husband are. Or maybe they’re older, but one or both of them have not had a lot of relationships, so they don’t have much experience discussing this stuff, letting one another know what they need in order to feel happy and secure in their marriage. Or maybe they don’t have role models in their lives for talking this kind of stuff out — not everyone does, by a long shot.

    Anyway, what LW’s husband did struck me as kind of low-grade thoughtless and shitty, rather than “what a flaming asshole!” I don’t mean to minimize his misconduct, or say the LW has no right to be upset. But I guess I think it is not fair to assume that the husband violated a clearly understood boundary, or that he went through some thought process like “hmmm.. I can either hurt the old gf by saying ‘no thanks’ to her nudie pics, or I can hurt my wife by saying ‘ok send ahead’ and peeking at them… yeah, I think I’ll hurt my wife ’cause that’s the lesser evil.”

    Mind you, I certainly doubt he’d have been thrilled if she had been exchanging comparable e-mails from an old high school flame, and encouraged him to send her some penis shots to ogle — so yeah, at best he’s a doofus for not thinking of what he was doing as hurtful to her and their marriage.

    And damn, that lie about how he didn’t know the old gf’d be *naked* in the pictures (but supposedly didn’t look at them)(but told her she looked hot) is just hopelessly lame… but it’s a pretty bumbly lie, perhaps intended to minimize hurt, when caught out with (fresh) naked pictures of an old girlfriend? Not, I don’t think, the practiced lie of a serial cheater. (Not that he couldn’t have made his way down that slippery slope of penis-following if the LW hadn’t caught him and made it clear that this was not acceptable… just that he hasn’t gotten there yet).

    Maybe this whole episode really was just a stupid, thoughtless thing he went with on a whim when the opportunity presented itself, that he thought of (to the extent thinking really describes what was going on) as not hurtful because his wife wouldn’t know. And when she did find out, and he realized it devastated her, he had the kind of immature instinct to pretend it didn’t really happen like it obviously did, instead of coming clean.

    It doesn’t mean he’s an utter and complete jerk, or that she can not reach a point of trust with him again. It does mean that they need to have some of those conversations about “what does it mean to you to be a good husband/wife?” “Well, this is what it means to me,” and “What do you need from me to be happy in this marriage?” and “If we treat this marriage as a joint effort to make one another as happy as we can be, what will it look like?” — and yeah, it might be good to have a professional counselor involved in those conversations, since they may not even know the questions they should be asking each other, and a facilitator can help them negotiate something that will work for both of them. (They should go ahead and discuss long term goals, household responsibilities and parenting stuff while they’re at it).

    On the upside, if they do have those conversations, they could emerge with a much better, stronger, more satisfying marriage than they had before, when they were just knocking along not discussing what the marriage means to each of them or where each of them thought they were going with this.

    1. +1 to this comment. A far more articulate and expanded and better version of a couple thoughts that had flitted through my head.

  23. I’m late returning to this thread and maybe the LW isn’t reading this anymore, but I noticed that there was a theme of “check for underlying bad things in the relationship!” in the comments and I wanted to say maybe…but, well, maybe not. That tends to be a big factor for women who cheat, but less so for men, for whom sexual excitability and anxiety are more important factors. Science says so, even! (http://esciencenews.com/articles/2011/07/25/sexual.anxiety.personality.predictors.infidelity.study.says) There isn’t evidence in the letter that this marriage was unhappy before the cheating, and I think there’s something a little bit victim-blamey about using the cheating itself as evidence that something was wrong.

Comments are closed.